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The Child & Family Research Centre’s work on youth social empathy includes a large research study, curriculum development and the mainstreaming of social empathy education in schools and teacher education. The Youth Empathy & Social Values (YES) project is closely linked to other core research areas of UNESCO Chair, in particular Youth as Researchers , Youth & Civic Engagement and Prevention of Youth Radicalisation. Supported by the Centre’s patron Cillian Murphy, the YES project aims to inform the development of policy interventions in the area of education and child and youth development.

What is Empathy?

"Empathy is about valuing, respecting and understanding another person's point of view - It is key to preventing bullying, tackling racism, promoting understanding and improving social connectedness among young people" - Cillian Murphy, Patron of the UNESCO CFRC & Empathy Education Project

YES Cillian Image
Source: The Irish Times

Empathy can be defined as the act of understanding, experiencing and responding to the emotions and thoughts of another person.

Empathy is often seen as having two components:

  1. Cognitive Empathy - the ability to understand and identify another person’s thoughts, feelings, and perspective,  sometimes referred to as ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’.
  2.  Emotional or Affective Empathy – the ability to share another person’s feelings or feel what they feel.

Many theorists add a third component: the decision to take empathic action. Activated Social Empathy is empathy that is active rather than passive or static. It generates a range of positive social impacts from social action to civic participation.

Why is social empathy important?

At the most fundamental level, having and demonstrating empathy forms the foundations of positive social understanding amongst human beings. Social empathy in young people matters because of its capacity to improve interpersonal relationships, to foster social connectedness and promote civic engagement. Childhood and adolescence has been identified as a crucial period for empathy development.

Research with young people has demonstrated an association between higher levels of empathy and a range of benefits including

  • Greater social competence
  • Better quality peer relationships
  • Increased conflict resolution skills
  • Lower aggression
  • Less prejudice
  • Greater academic achievement.

Cultivating empathy in young people therefore offers a pathway to the development of prosocial helping behaviours and social connection; to a set of values that include social responsibility; and to social action and civic engagement. In short, activating social empathy forms a crucial component of children and young people’s development and has potentially radical implications for the future of society.

The Youth Empathy and Social Values (YES) Project has three components.

Click here for more information on the IRC Youth Empathy Study.

Click here for more information on the Social Empathy Education Project.

Click here for more information on the Libraries, Literature and Empathy Project.

A PhD study was started in October 2017 in the area of social values and empathy among youth, with a specific research focus to be decided. Click here for more information.