Posted: April 3, 2024

Farmers are accustomed to producing crops and other goods, but a study led by College of Agricultural Sciences researchers suggests the social media platform TikTok may help them cultivate something new: empathy about climate change.

The researchers examined how users engaged with TikTok videos posted by farmers during the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. They analyzed whether the conversations fit into three levels of empathy, including emotional empathy and two types of cognitive empathy.

They also interviewed farmers to better explore their values, attitudes and beliefs surrounding climate change dialogues on the TikTok platform.

The team found that many people responded to the videos with warmth and compassion, signaling emotional empathy. However, the videos were not as successful at triggering cognitive empathy, in this case defined as viewers going beyond compassion to thinking critically about the content by adding their own thoughts or asking further questions.

The findings suggest that platforms such as TikTok offer new ways for farmers to communicate with consumers, said Ilkay Unay-Gailhard, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies who led the study while completing a fellowship at Penn State.

—Katie Bohn