Empathy, while traditionally considered an inherent trait, has been successfully taught and refined by educational programs and life situations. Our team, in partnership with the National University of Ireland (NUI), Galway and UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) developed a curriculum, Activating Empathy. Activating Empathy has been shown to effectively teach empathetic practices to participants which are applicable to their community and everyday life. Participants of all ages have gained important leadership and life skills from this 12 hour program. The Empathy Project is making an impact on the global community. Our team is working to spread this curriculum to schools and businesses. We have outlined some of the benefits below. We can tailor Activating Empathy to meet your needs. Interested in learning more? Contact us at empathyproject@psu.edu.

To register for all cohorts of Fall 2019 Activating Empathy, please click here.

Why teach empathy?

"You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this - when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers - it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help." - Barack Obama (2006)

Why teach Activating Empathy in schools?

In recent decades, empathy has been the subject of considerable social sciences research, with a particular emphasis on the link between empathy and prosocial behavior in young people. One of the goals of an education system is to create responsible, caring and socially aware citizens who feel connected to their communities, societies and the wider world. This is a goal that is often lost in the context of exam pressure and curricular overload. Empathy matters because of its capacity to foster social connectedness and civic behavior. Empathy education can target intervention designed to improve empathy skills amongst young people with a focus on enhancing their social competence and promoting civic behavior.

Research has shown that empathy is lined to a range of beneficial effects on behavior and attitudes. Specifically, empathy and prosocial responding in children and adolescents is associated with:

  • better quality peer relationships 
  • greater academic achievement 
  • greater social competence
  • less prejudice
  • fewer externalising behaviors
  • lower aggression 
  • lower engagement in antisocial behavior

It is relevant to note that adolescence has been identified as a crucial period for empathy development. Research also indicates that the social and developmental experiences that occur during childhood and adolescence can set the stage for citizenship and responsibility across the lifespan.

Why teach Activating Empathy in businesses?

Increasing empathy levels in staff and administration leads to higher employee retention and engagement, as well as higher productivity. According to an 2019 executive summary published by Business Solver, 82% of employees surveyed said they would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic workplace. Empathy has also been shown to increase productivity and collaboration in the workplace. As the report states, "Empathy matters more than ever, and without it, you are falling behind". 

Empathy can improve the workplace through:

  • Making employees more likely to go the extra mile to support their coworkers with deadlines and projects;
  • Allowing safe spaces for discussions about workplace complications;
  • Creating an environment where administration and employees both feel heard and understood.

Our Partners