.. er for cognitive than for affective empathy. Storytelling produced a significant effect in cognitive anger over the three conditions (F (df 2,32) = 4.216, p * .05). Post hoc paired t-tests (alpha set at .017 according to Bonferroni procedure) revealed a significant increase in empathy scores from the baseline (M = 3.0588, SD = .5557) to the immediate test condition (M = 3.4706, SD = .5145, p * .017). The same test also revealed marginal significance in the change of mean scores from the story condition to the second baseline test (M = 3.1765, SD = .3930, p = .056). These results indicate that storytelling did increase the empathy expressed by participants. No significant changes in mean scores were found in the remaining seven questionnaire items, although an interesting trend was revealed.
There appeared to be a further effect of storytelling for several more questionnaire items aside from affective anger. For cognitive sadness, affective sadness, and affective fear, mean scores increased from the baseline to the immediate condition, although not significantly (Table 1). These increased means indicate a definite trend of more appropriate expressions of empathy when storytelling is employed. In three of the eight questionnaire measures, cognitive fear, as well as both affective and cognitive happiness, mean scores decreased from the baseline to the immediate condition, although not significantly (Table 1). This trend is interesting because it indicates a possible negative effect of storytelling. For the remaining item, affective anger, means remained the same from the baseline to the immediate condition.
No effects of age or sex were found. Discussion The hypothesis in this study was not strongly supported. In one half of the questionnaire items, scores increased as an effect of storytelling, one significantly. In three of the four remaining items, scores dropped from the baseline to the story condition. It is difficult to determine if these trends indicate whether or not storytelling has an effect on children’s empathy, and whether it is positive or negative. There are several possible explanations for a decrease in empathy scores after hearing a story. The testing conditions were not always the most appropriate for reading to a child. At times, the test was administered in a large room with several other children, who often interrupted and asked questions about what was taking place.
This might have increased the participant’s distractability or reduced the attention span, which in turn could reduce the impact and effectiveness of storytelling. A more ideal testing environment would be one that is quiet and the full attention of the experimenter and the child can be given to the story being read and the test being administered. When working with preschool aged participants, it is also important to note that their logic is not always the same as that of an adult, and that it is quite variable. When asked, “how does a child who just lost its best friend feel?”, a young child may respond, “like he couldn’t go.” This answer might very well make perfect sense to the child, but it becomes difficult for the experimenter to determine what sort of emotion this is, and how it might be coded for data analysis. During the next session, however, the same child may be thinking in a different way and give the response that is considered most appropriate, “sad.” In the mind of the child, however, these two seemingly different answers may mean exactly the same emotion.
The variability in logic and verbal expression of young children can thus greatly effect the responses given on a questionnaire. In the present study, it was interesting to examine the children’s understanding of affective versus cognitive empathy. Participants consistently demonstrated a better understanding of what another child’s emotion would be than what their own would be in response to the other child’s situation. The question “how does this child feel?” leaves much less room for interpretation that the question, “how do you feel about that?” It is possible that the latter could be interpreted as, “how do you feel about being in that situation?” or “how do you feel about the child’s involvement in that situation?” If interpreted the first way, the child must simply put him or herself in a situation which he or she has most likely experienced, which is much more concrete, and easier to do at this young age. The question becomes more difficult when interpret the second way, which requires the child to relate to an imaginary child in an imaginary situation. Another interesting trend was which emotions appeared to be best understood.
Children consistently mistook anger for sadness, in response to the vignette, “a child really wants to go out but is not allowed.” The change in means from the baseline to the story was significant, but mean scores were generally lower for anger than for sadness, fear, and happiness. This indicates that young children are less aware of anger than other basic emotions, that it is more difficult for them to articulate, or possibly that they equate it with sadness. Children were most likely to correctly identify sadness and happiness consistently, which possibly indicates that they are more aware of these emotions, and are better able to verbalize them. There was an indication that hearing a story with a sympathetic protagonist does actually lead a child to express more empathy. If administered to a larger sample in a more consistent and appropriate environment, it is quite possible a significant effect of storytelling could be found.
In the present study, no attempt was made to consciously emphasize and teach empathy along with storytelling. In future research, storytelling could be proven more effective when combined with a deliberate teaching of empathy, which has also been shown to be highly effective. Future research could also examine the effects of different types of storybooks, with different types of characters and situations, and how this might change a young child’s expressions of empathy toward others. References Bryant, B. (1982). An index of empathy for children and adolescents.
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Strayer, J., & Roberts, W. (1997). Children’s personal distance and their empathy: indices of interpersonal closeness. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 20(3), 485- 503. Appendix A The Young Children’s Empathy Measure Robert H.
Poresky 1. Sadness: “A child has just lost its best friend.” How does this child feel? How do you feel about this? 2. Fear: “A child is being chased by a big, nasty monster.” How does this child feel? How do you feel about this? 3. Anger: “A child really wants to go out but is not allowed.” How does this child feel? How do you feel about this? 4. Happiness: “A child is going to its most favorite park to play.” How does this child feel? How do you feel about this? Scoring: 4 = exact match to intended emotion 3 = similar emotion 2 = some emotion 1 = nonemotional response 0 = no emotion.