Evidence That It Works
A study with 21 South Korean five-year olds showed that engaging in reflection, role-playing, and discussion around bullying increased children’s perspective-taking and empathy towards the victims.
In a series of five studies with diverse groups of undergraduate students, researchers found that participants who engaged in perspective-taking (in comparison to participants who did not) were rated more highly by people with whom they interacted. Furthermore, perspective-takers showed more approach-oriented behaviors towards outgroup members and displayed greater awareness of racial inequalities.
Finally, a study of mainly white freshmen from a high school in the northeastern United States found that students who participated in a visual arts and music-based social-emotional learning program (in comparison to those who didn’t) increased their levels of perspective-taking and empathic concern.
Why Does It Matter?
As teachers, we can help our students cultivate empathy for others through the encouragement of perspective-taking and giving skills. By doing so, not only can we strengthen our students’ relationship with others, but we can also help improve intergroup interactions, which is so important as divides continue to grow in the U.S. and elsewhere around various group identities.
Furthermore, some scholars suggest that empathy is the mechanism that drives altruistic behavior. By supporting our students’ perspective taking and giving skills, we can create more prosocial communities in our classrooms and beyond.