Comparative ways mentor self-efficacy & empathy affect youth mentorship quality

Deane, K. L., Boat, A. A., Haddock, S. A., Henry, K. L., Zimmerman, T. S., & Weiler, L. M. (2022). The comparative roles of mentor self-efficacy and empathy in fostering relationship quality with youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Evidence shows that mentor empathy and self-efficacy play notable roles in influencing the quality of mentoring relationships.
  • This study assesses the comparative impact mentors’ empathy skills and efficacy have on their (and their mentees’) perceptions of relationship quality.
  • Mentor empathy had a stronger and stabler effect on mentoring relationship quality than self-efficacy.
  • Mentor empathy was predictive of mentors’ views of relationship quality at both time points and mentees’ views at the end of the program.
  • Mentor efficacy was only predictive of mentor-reported relationship quality at the end of the program.
  • Mentors can promote a positive sense of relationship connections for their mentees and themselves by being empathetic.
  • Assisting mentors in cultivating strong self-efficacy beliefs can help foster longer-lasting relationships.
  • It’s beneficial to have mentor training and ongoing support that integrates activities that promote empathetic skills and solid self-efficacy beliefs.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Youth mentors’ efficacy beliefs and relational skills should both influence the quality of their connections with their mentees, but a lack of research based on large, dyadic and longitudinal samples limits understanding of how mentor characteristics impact relationship quality. This study used three staged and process-focused structural equation models to (1) investigate the mutually reinforcing effects of mentor self-efficacy and empathy over time; (2) compare the longitudinal effects of mid-program mentor efficacy and empathy on end of program mentor and mentee perceptions of relationship quality; and (3) test a similar comparative model using cross-sectional end of program assessments to account for developmental changes in these variables over time. The sample consisted of 664 college-age mentor (76.5% female; 𝑥 age = 24.5, range = 21–53; 23.5% non-White) and youth mentee (41% female; 𝑥 age = 14.1, range = 10–19; 41.9% non-White) dyads. Mentor empathy predicted mentor perceptions of relationship quality at both time points and mentee perceptions at the end of the program. Mentor efficacy only predicted mentor reported relationship quality at the end of the program. The findings emphasize the importance of investing in empathy training for mentors to support both partners’ positive evaluation of the relationship. Program support to increase mentor self-efficacy should also have added value for mentors.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Despite mentoring self-efficacy and empathy being discussed in the literature as important mentor-driven influences on mentoring relationship quality, no studies have examined their comparative effects to eliminate their potentially confounded influence or their relative influences on mentor and mentee perceptions of their relationship. This study sought to disentangle their comparative effects on both youth and mentor reports of relationship quality using a large, longitudinal sample of matched mentors and mentees from a CC program and concurrent measures of mentor self-efficacy and empathy. The aim was to provide insights to support more effective mentor training and supervision, given previously established links between these mentor characteristics, relationship quality and program outcomes. A staged and process-focused approach first tested the cross-lagged effects of mentor self-efficacy and empathy on each other over time; a second model tested longitudinal predictive effects of mentor efficacy and empathy mid-program on relationship quality at the end of the program; and a final cross-sectional model reassessed the links between mentor efficacy, empathy and relationship quality at the end of the program. Mentor empathy had a more consistent and stronger influence on mentor-mentee relationship quality than self-efficacy; however, mentor empathy was associated with mentoring self-efficacy, and mentors’ self-efficacy beliefs at the end of the program were linked to enhanced mentor perceptions of their relationship at the same time point.

Beginning with the first hypothesis that the two mentor characteristics would have mutually reinforcing longitudinal effects on each other, the findings clearly demonstrate that mentors’ beliefs in their efficacy for mentoring and their perceptions of their empathic skills are interrelated but, for the current sample of mentors, these self-perceptions remained largely stable from the middle to the end of the CC program. Accordingly, after accounting for the shared variance between the Week 6 measures of both latent constructs and the shared variance in the repeated measure of each at Week 11, there was little additional variance to predict over time (as represented by the cross-lagged paths). This is addressed further in the limitations section below.

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