Based on theories of social-cognitive development, the present study investigated the yet unknown social structure that underlies the concept of empathy in adolescence. A total of 3.159 seventh graders (13.67 years, 56% girls) from 166 school classes participated by providing information on empathy, related psychosocial factors, and friendship patterns. Social network analyses were used to measure a comprehensive representation of adolescents’ social environment by covering individual, group, class, and school characteristics. Multilevel models revealed that individual characteristics as well as contextual factors predict adolescents’ level of empathy. Findings indicate that empathy is mirrored in the social structure of adolescents supporting the hypothesis that social demands, which continuously grow with the amount of embeddedness, shape their social understanding.
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