Can Empathy be ‘Taught’ to Adults?

Empathy plays a critical role in AIDA’s learning program. And, we are constantly looking for new ways to incorporate it into our curriculum.

Here is one such example from Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (great book by the way, highly recommended)

Arthur Aron and Elaine Aron are husband and wife as well as research partners and writing collaborators at Stony Brook University. They have made it their life’s work to study the ways in which we form intimate ties with those in our inner circle as well as with members from an out-group. Over the last decade, they have been bringing together diverse pairs of complete strangers – black and white, Latino and Asian, black and Latino – to participate in an unusual experiment.

The Arons asked each of these couples to come together for a series of four intimate, hour-long sessions. During their first session, each member of the pair was asked to share his or her answers to a list of questions, everything from “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” to “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?” During the second session, the pairs competed against other pairs in timed games like charades, word play, and logic puzzles. Then, in the third, there were guided through a series of intimate conversations with questions about their personal lives and their feelings of affiliation toward their ethnic groups.

In the last hour-long session, they did a blindfolded trust walk, taking turns navigating a maze wearing the blindfold or serving as the guide.

Although the activities conjure up a weekend at seventh-grade summer camp, Dr. Arthur Aron argues that these four hours create a relationship that is as close as any in a person’s life.

In fact, research from Arons’ tests showed that the four-hour sessions almost immediately lowered subjects’ score on a variety of prejudice measures. Stress hormone tests, conducted on the subjects’ saliva, showed significantly reduced anxiety for both members of the pair when they encountered a social interaction with a member of their partner’s ethnic group.

Psychologists suggest that these kinds of powerful bonds – creating new definitions for in-group and out-group – occur through our own highly evolved process of empathetic mimicry. We are rarely conscious of it, but we, as humans are constantly copying the facial expressions, manners of speech, postures, and body language of those around us.

Here is proof that empathy can be ‘taught’ to adults, so there is hope for us after all. ;-)

Tags: ,
Categories: resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Featured Posts
  • Krishi Janani: Stepping Out Into the Great Unknown

    Krishi Janani: Ag Tech Network

    So…Appropriate IT is working on a new sustainable agriculture technology platform – Krishi Janani. We have been at it for a while now, launching a partially working prototype earlier this year. Before I go into the ‘Great Unknown’ parts of the story, a quick summary:

    Krishi Janani is an ag tech network (online platform + young women-led rural ag tech centers) enabling organic and sustainable

  • Pay It Forward: A Training in Namakkal

    Namakkal Training 6

    A three day technology training in building websites with WordPress at PGP college in Namakkal, Tamil Nadu

    By Alexandra de Vogel, Assistant Trainer

    With a background in Industrial design and innovation management, being part of this training was a first experience for me. But now I know that it will definitely not be my last experience in this field. These three days in Namakkal

  • Learning is a Mindset

    AIDA Inauguration 5

    (Guest blog by Heather A. Moore)

    Usha recently invited me to share some words of advice with the inspiring young women that had recently graduated from the pilot program of AIDA, Appropriate IT’s Development Academy, and with those from the community. Having gathered some sage advice from a few wise and generous mentors throughout my career, as well as the hard earned wisdom that comes