Changes in the constructs occur with the child's cognitive and social maturity influenced by both innate physiological processes and environmental conditions. The development of empathy (the ability to feel another person's emotions vicariously), affective role-taking (the ability to make inferences about another's psychological experiences), and social cognition (the ability to understand people and think about social relations) increases in childhood with age and experience. There is general agreement that starting at age two or three years a child is able to differentiate feelings and respond to others' feelings (Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, and King, 1979).
Selman's (1980) proposed five-level sequence for the acquisition of affective role-taking ability occurring from about age three or four or so to twelve provides a good example of a stage theory.
Level 0 - Egocentric - The child does not distinguish between his own and others' feelings.
Level 1 - Subjective Role-Taking - The child realizes that others think and behave differently because they are in a different situation or have different information. It is difficult for the child to think about his own and another's perspective at the same time. He cannot put himself in another's position to judge what that person thinks or feels. (This stage starts at about age three or four and is fully present at about age six).
Level 2 - Self-Reflective Role-Taking - The child becomes aware that another thinks or feels differently because he has his own values or interests. The child now understands that his view is not necessarily the right one, and is able to put self in other's place and knows others can do the same. (This stage starts at age five or six and is fully present by age eight).
Level 3 - Mutual Role-Taking - The child can think about his own and another's point of view at the same time. (Fully present by age ten).
Level 4 - Societal or In-Depth Perspective Taking - The child is able to take the view of society and its laws, understanding that people do not always understand each others' values. This last stage starts occurring at about age twelve and continues developing into adulthood.
--borrowed from www.seedsoftolerance.org/research.html