The Effects of Storytelling on Expressions of Empathy in Preschool Aged Children

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The Effects of Storytelling on Expressions of Empathy in Preschool Aged Children The present study examined affective and cognitive empathy in preschool children. Seventeen children, ages three to five years, were given The Young Children's Empathy Measure to determine their understanding of empathy. Participants were then read a children's story and given the empathy measure again, to see if they expressed more empathy after hearing about a sympathetic protagonist. A second baseline score was obtained one week after the story was administered. On measures of cognitive anger, mean scores increased significantly after the story was heard. Other scores increased after hearing the story, indicating a trend that storytelling is an effective method of increasing expressions of empathy. Affective empathy is defined as being able to know about and understand another person's feelings without having experienced the same situation (Feshbach, 1975). Children as young as three years of age have been shown to exhibit appropriate empathy toward others and to demonstrate correct understanding of others' emotions (Gove & Keating, 1979; Poresky, 1990). Although young children can correctly express empathy toward others, empathic abilities do appear to increase as one grows older and is able to view the world in a less egocentric manner (Piaget, 1966). Numerous studies have illustrated a strong positive correlation between age and ability to empathize. Children between five and six years of age show many more appropriate responses on empathy measures than children closer to three years of age (Gove & Keating, 1979; Poresky, 1990). This trend is not exclusive to the earliest years of development. Bryant (1982) administered a pencil and paper empathy scale to first, fourth, and seventh graders and found that seventh graders were more empathetic than the other two groups. Olweus and Endresen (1998) conducted a two-year longitudinal study of 13 to 16 year olds and found a steady increase in empathy as they aged. Higher levels of empathy in children have also been correlated with the development of many positive behaviors at all ages. Seja and Russ (1999) discovered a strong correlation between high levels of fantasy play and empathy in first and second graders. This trend indicates that being able to vicariously understand the emotions of others is related to creativity and imagination. The ability to empathize is also correlated with increased prosocial behavior and emotional expressiveness and insight (Roberts & Strayer, 1996). Empathy also appears to increase a child's comfort level and openness around other people, and decreases the physical distance they place between themselves and others (Strayer & Roberts, 1997).

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