Teaching kids empathy can improve their creative abilities, study finds

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Learning to be empathetic can help children in the classroom and in real life

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge has found that teaching kids about empathy can benefit them creatively

According to their findings, kids’ creative and intellectual abilities improved when empathy was a focus point in school. This shows that addressing students’ needs beyond the scope of the curriculum can be beneficial to them both in the classroom and in everyday life. 

“We clearly awakened something in these pupils by encouraging them to think about the thoughts and feelings of others,” said researcher Dr. Helen Demetriou. “The research shows not only that it is possible to teach empathy, but that by doing so, we support the development of children’s creativity and their wider learning.” 

The benefits of prioritizing empathy

To better understand the importance of teaching kids how to be empathetic, the researchers conducted a year-long study that included 13- and 14-year-olds in a Design and Technology (D&T) program at two London schools. One school integrated lessons about empathy into the curriculum, and all of the students were assessed for creativity at the start and conclusion of the school year. 

Ultimately, learning about empathy was an important component of bolstering kids’ creativity and their overall engagement with academics. The researchers found that the students who had learned about empathy in school had stronger creative pursuits, and they were also more likely to be open-minded when compare to the students who had received more standard, curriculum-based lessons. 

Interestingly, the researchers learned that male and female students responded a little differently to the empathy lessons. Young girls had improved by more than 60 percent when it came to understanding others’ perspectives, while the boys who had empathy training were nearly 65 percent better at expressing their emotions. 

“When I taught Design and Technology, I didn’t see children as potential engineers who would one day contribute to the economy; they were people who needed to be ready to go into the world at 18,” said researcher Bill Nicholl. “Teaching children to empathize is about building a society where we appreciate other’s perspectives. Surely that is something we want education to do.” 

Surge in creativity

It’s also important to note that the children who received the empathy interventions had scored 11 percent lower on the creativity assessments at the start of the study; however, after learning more about emotions, thoughts, and feelings, the students’ creativity scores surged to be nearly 80 percent higher than the other group. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that more educational leaders take these findings into consideration. Instilling students with empathy skills has been found to help them become more well-rounded human beings, which is invaluable to the growth and development process. 

“This is something that we must think about as curricula, in general, becomes increasingly exam-based,” said Dr. Demetriou. “Good grades matter, but for society to thrive, creative, communicative, and empathic individuals matter too.” 

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