Activities to increase cognitive empathy (adapted from A. Fullchange, 2016)
Role Playing – positive significant effect on all age levels, some evidence of positive effect for those who WATCH others role play. In school you can: acting classes, plays, acting workshops, writing essays from perspective of historical figure, create and act out skits.
Talk about feelings – With young children, conversations about feelings predict later perspective taking. Need to refer to the “WHY” behind feelings. In older students, those who referred to emotions more often in their conversations tend to show greater perspective taking abilities. Family conversations about feelings have a positive impaction on emotional and behavioral adjustment. In school you can: mood-meter. Have feeling check-ins, posters of feeling words and expanded literacy around feelings, feelings wheel game, expand conversation about feelings around content in literature and current events
Induction and distancing – Parenting has significant impact on development of cognitive empathy. Induction = when a parent refers to other’s perspective, points out their distress, and clarifies that the child’s action caused the distress. This promotes cognitive empathy. Power-assertive parenting style (authoritarian) relies on coercion or threats of punishment and do not promote cognitive empathy. Distancing = when caregivers question and challenge the child’s viewpoint (versus explaining logic as in induction). Distancing is more Socratic – providing counter examples, create dissonance in the child’s assumptions. Asking a student to imagine how others feel is more effective at inducing empathy than asking them to imagine how they themselves would feel in other’s situation. Instead asking how a child would feel in a bad situation experienced by others induced personal distress. Use these techniques in the moment in schools: Instead of “how would you feel if it happened to you”, ask “how do you suppose that made the other person feel” point out other’s distress “did you see how that person reacted? Your words made that person feel that way” Talk about potential behavior and how it makes others’ feel. Challenge students to think about alternative explanations for the behavior of historical figures.
Gratitude – Feeling thankful when you believe others have acted in a way that benefits you. It broadens and builds empathy by increasing the willingness to consider other perspectives. There is a link between gratitude and empathy, but it is correlational in the research at this point. However, gratitude is linked to prosocial behavior, empathy, and lowering aggression. Gratitude is more effective at boosting positive affective and decreasing negative affect in people with lower empathy than in people with higher empathy. In school: Count blessings – think back over the past day and write down five things you are thankful for. Write a gratitude letter to someone important in your life. Picking a person each day to say thank you to for something they do for you every day. Seek opportunities to be grateful. Silently thank people in your mind,
Mindfulness – Paying attention in the moment, on purpose, without judgment. Most of the research has been done on adults, but there is experimental evidence that mindful practices benefit youth by reducing distress and cultivating empathy. In school practice: Awareness of breath, mindfully eating a chocolate kiss, pay attention to the tip of your nose, to your abdomen. Feel breath pass through your nose, coolness, feel you abdomen expand with the in breath and sink with the out breath. Attend to senses. Notice the sound that is farthest away, then in the room, then within your body. MBSR and MBCBT. Soles of feet meditation. Mindful seeing, smelling, tasting, movement. Body scans. Dots or other prompts to remind ppl to breathe.
Fullchange, A. (October, 2016). Activities to increase cognitive empathy in students. Communique, 45 (2).