Possibilities of Targeted Development of Empathy in Teachers Undergraduate Training


1 Jana Stehlíková, Marta Valihorová Slovakia of Empathy in Teachers Undergraduate Training DOI: /tner Abstract The aim of our res...
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Jana Stehlíková, Marta Valihorová Slovakia

Possibilities of Targeted Development of Empathy in Teachers’ Undergraduate Training DOI: 10.15804/tner.2016.45.3.15

Abstract The aim of our research was to confirm or reject the assumption that the intervention programme “E” – Empathy Development Programme – had a positive effect on changes in the cognitive and emotional component of empathy in the experimental group of students, future teachers. IRI – Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1996) was used as the measuring tool. Data analysis of results showed differences in terms of desirable significant changes at the level of all IRI variables between the experimental group participating in experiential intervention and the group not participating in any intervention programme during testing. Keywords: multidimensional model of empathy, emotional construct of empathy, cognitive construct of empathy, “Perspective Taking” factor, “Emotional Concern” factor, “Fantasy” factor, “Personal Distress” factor

Introduction Empathy constitutes the basic component of all existing psychological phenomena (Mlčák, 2008). The importance of empathy is emphasized also by C. Serino (2007, p. 109) in her statement: “Empathy is one of the most peculiar and intriguing phenomena in social life, which can be observed in several different contexts and analyzed at different levels.”

Possibilities of Targeted Development

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C.R. Rogers (1975, p. 4) describes empathy as follows: “It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it. It involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person...To be with another in this way means that for the time being you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter another’s world without prejudice... and this can only be done by a person who is secure enough in himself that he knows he will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably return to his own world when he wishes.” Empathy is one of the P-C-E pillars whose effect on pupils’ creative abilities was experimentally tested by Ďuricová (2000). The main source of problems in the conception of empathy in contemporary psychology can be seen in the fact that the term empathy is used to designate two separate and independent phenomena which are emotional (affective) empathy and cognitive empathy. The cognitive conception of empathy accentuates the mechanism of tuning into the psychology of other persons. Empathy is understood as a perceptual ability, an ability of social insight, but also as a communication process. We endorse the current knowledge supporting the multi-dimensional character of empathy with links to the knowledge of more psychological schools and approaches. Davis (1996), Čavojová, Verešová (2011) understand empathy as a system of several constructs – primarily the construct of emotional empathy and the construct of cognitive empathy. The model of empathy by Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright (2004) depicts the overlap of the affective and cognitive components of empathy, with the affective component described as experiencing emotions arising by perception of emotions of other people and the cognitive component as understanding or anticipation of the content the other could think or act by. This definition is closely related to equally named dimensions of subjective well-being (Pašková, 2010). Some authors are of the opinion that cognitive empathy is a prerequisite for the development of emotional empathy, others assume complicated interaction relationships between them (Hoffman, 1987). In contemporary psychology, the multi-dimensional conception by M.H. Davis (1983) is the most elaborated. M.H. Davis is of the opinion that empathy may be operationalized and measured as a set of constructs, components, with a hierarchic arrangement. He constructed the IRI scale aimed at measuring 4 basic components: Perspective Taking, Empathic Concern, Fantasy and Personal Distress. We believe that development of the theory of empathy as well as its study requires acceptance of the multi-dimensional understanding of empathy.

188

Jana Stehlíková, Marta Valihorová

The aim of our research was to determine the efficiency of the intervention “E” – empathy development programme in teachers’ undergraduate training. We expected that the constructed intervention programme would primarily purposefully develop the affective and cognitive component of empathy, but also other social skills and competences necessary for the performance of the challenging teaching profession. The “E” – empathy development programme in undergraduate training of future teachers was carried out once a week, 30 meetings, 90 hours in total, and focused mainly on the development of the following 5 components: •• Adequate self-assessment and assessment of others. •• Adequate identification of emotional stimuli. •• Taking other peoples’ perspective. •• Ability to respond empathically. •• Willingness to forgive oneself and others. Research objectives were specified as follows: 1. Find out whether the intervention program of empathy development had an effect on increasing the level of the cognitive and affective components of empathy in students – future teachers. 2. Find out whether the intervention empathy development programme had an effect on decreasing personal distress in students – future teachers. 3. Compare the level of individual variables in the experimental and the control groups after carrying out the intervention programme “E” – empathy development programme. 4. Find out what the stability of changes, if any, in individual variables would be like after 5 months from the intervention programme “E” – empathy development programme.

Methods The methodology of the experimental-verification research is based on the so-called comparative strategy. We used the design with one experimental group – comparison in time (level of abilities or performance before and after the research) and group-to-group experimental design with two groups – comparison of the experimental and the control groups. Increase in the level of abilities and performance is indicated by comparison of the level of abilities or performance at the time horizon before and after the

Possibilities of Targeted Development

189

intervention programme, as well as statistic testing of differences, if any, for significance, using the pair t-test (sequential experiment). The increase in the level of abilities and performance is indicated also by comparison of the level of abilities or performance in the experimental and the control groups after the intervention programme, as well as statistic testing of differences, if any, for significance with the use of the t-test for two independent samples (parallel experiment).

Participants Due to the complexity of technical provisions for the intervention programme, the research sample was limited to 41 respondents in the experimental group and 82 respondents in the control group. The experimental group included 7 male respondents and the control group 12 male respondents. The experimental group and the control group consisted of students of the 2nd and 3rd year of study at the Faculty of Education and Faculty of Humanities of Mathias Bel University in Banská Bystrica, with study programmes in general education subjects teaching, while the students of the control group did not attend any intervention prosocial programme during our tested intervention programme.

Instruments In terms of our research aim formulation, the research tool Interpersonal Reactivity Index – IRI (Davis, M.H., 1996) was chosen. The scale consists of 28 items divided into 4 sub-scales of 7 items each, as follows: 1. Subscale of Empathic Concern (EC) – measuring the feelings of compassion, cordiality, sympathy and concern for unfortunate others. 2. Subscale of Perspective Taking (PT) – measuring the tendency to take points of view of others based on non-egocentric thinking; it measures the cognitive component of empathy. 3. Subscale of Personal Distress (PD) – measuring the tendency to self-focused feelings of apprehension, discomfort at witnessing others experiencing crisis situations. 4. Subscale of Fantasy (FS) – measuring the tendency to transpose oneself imaginatively into feelings and actions of fictitious characters in books, films and to perceive their situation.

Jana Stehlíková, Marta Valihorová

190

All four subscales have sufficient internal and re-test reliability (internal reliability range is from 0.71 to 0.77; retest reliability ranges from 0.62 to 0.71).

Results Collected data were processed by means of the statistical programme SPSS. The following statistical methods were used: descriptive analysis of data, the Mann-Whitney U-test (Wilcoxon Test – non-parametric version of the pair t-test for comparison of two independent samples in repeated measurement). A. Results of research findings for the components of Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking Table 1.  Basic descriptive indicators of three measurements of the EC and PT levels in the experimental and the control groups  

 

EC1

EC2

EC3

PT1

PT2

PT3

11.83 41 2.036 12

17.93 41 1.555 18

17.83 41 1.58 18

12.1 41 1.868 12

17.44 41 1.184 17

17.1 41 1.261 17

Maximum Minimum M

16 8 11.52

20 15 11.68

20 14 11.67

18 8 11.71

20 15 11.72

20 15 11.62

N SD M Maximum Minimum

82 1.476 12 16 8

82 1.404 12 16 9

82 1.352 12 16 9

82 1.511 12 16 9

82 1.443 12 16 9

82 1.376 11 15 9

Experimental AM group N SD M

Control group

Legend: EC factor – Emotional Concern, PT factor – Perspective Taking

Table 2.  Significance of differences in the EC and PT levels between the experimental and the control groups Variable EC1

Group Experimental Control

n

M

41 82

12 12

Mann-Whitney U value

p

1525.500

.393

Possibilities of Targeted Development Variable EC2 EC3 PT1 PT2 PT3

Group Experimental Control Experimental Control Experimental Control Experimental Control Experimental Control

191 n

M

41 82 41 82 41 82 41 82 41 82

18 12 18 12 12 12 17 12 17 11

Mann-Whitney U value

p

7500

.000

11.500

.000

1501

.317

6500

.000

7500

.000

Legend: EC – Emotional Concern pretest, PT1 – Perspective Taking pretest, EC2 – Emotional Concern first posttest immediately after the programme, PT2 – Perspective Taking first posttest immediately after the programme, EC3 – Emotional Concern second posttest 5 months after the programme, PT3 – Perspective Taking second posttest 5 months after the programme.

Based on the Mann-Whitney test results, it can be stated that the difference between the experimental group and the control group, manifested by the change in the Emotional Concern (EC) subscale level and by the change in the Perspective Taking (PT) subscale level in the first posttest (after termination of the intervention programme) proved to be statistically significant at the significance level of p < 0.001 and in the third measurement (5 months after termination of the intervention programme) at the significance level of p < 0.001.We made sure that the control group and the experimental group did not differ significantly after the first measurement (in the pretest) of the Emotional Concern subscale (before the intervention programme), since p = 0.393, i.e., p > 0.05. Also, the control group and the experimental group did not differ significantly after the first measurement (in the pretest) of the Perspective Taking subscale, since p = 0.317, i.e., p > 0.05, which we perceive as a positive indicator. Table 3.  Significance of differences in the variables EC and PT in the experimental group by Wilcoxon testing Group

M

AM

SD

EC pre

 

1

12

11.83

2.036

EC post1

1

18

17.93

1.555

EC pre

1

12

11.83

2. 036

EC post2

1

18

17.83

1.58

Z

p

-5.61

.000

-5.618

.000

Jana Stehlíková, Marta Valihorová

192  

Group

M

AM

SD

EC post1

1

18

17.93

1.555

EC post2

1

18

17.83

1.58

PT pre

1

12

12.1

1.868

PT post1

1

17

17.44

1.184

PT pre

1

12

12.1

1.868

PT post2

1

17

17.1

1.261

PT post1

1

17

17.44

1.184

PT post2

1

17

17.1

1.261

Z

p

-0.832

.407

-5.485

.000

-5.52

.000

-2.841

0.006

Legend: 1 – experimental group, n = 41, pretest, posttest after the programmes, post2 – posttest 5 months after the programme

Based on the Mann-Whitney test results it can be stated that the difference in the experimental group in the second measurement, i.e., in the first posttest (after termination of the intervention programme), manifested by the change in the Emotional Concern (EC) subscale level and the change in the Perspective Taking (PT) subscale level proved to be statistically significant at the significance level of p < 0.001 and in the third measurement (5 months after termination of the intervention programme) at the significance level of p < 0.001. Table 4.  Significance of differences in the variables EC and PT in the control group in the pretest and posttests by Wilcoxon testing Group

M

AM

AD

EC pre

 

2

12

11.52

1.476

EC post1

2

12

11.68

1.404

EC pre

2

12

11.52

1.476

EC post2

2

12

11.67

1.352

ECpost1

2

12

11.68

1.404

ECpost2

2

12

11.67

1.352

PT pre

2

12

11.71

1.511

PT post1

2

12

11.72

1.443

PT pre

2

12

11.71

1.511

PT post2

2

11

11.62

1.376

Z

P

-1.555

.109

-1.61

.095

-0.173

.951

-0.133

.913

-0.929

.382

Possibilities of Targeted Development

193

 

Group

M

AM

AD

PT post1

2

12

11.72

1.443

PT post2

2

11

11.62

1.376

Z

P

-1.706

.134

Legend: 2 – control group, n = 82, EC – Emotional Concern, PT – Perspective Taking

There were no significant changes in the control group between the first measurement (pretest) and the second measurement (posttest 1) of Emotional Concern (EC), p = 0.109, i.e., p > 0.05, as well as no significant changes between the second (posttest 1) and the third measurement (posttest 2) , since p = 0.951, i.e., p > 0.05, and no significant changes between the first (pretest) and the third measurement (posttest 2), p = 0.095, i.e., p > 0.05. No significant changes were recorded also for the Perspective Taking variable (PT) in the control group, between individual measurements; p = 0.913, i.e., p > 0.05 between the first and the second measurement; and p = 0.134, i.e., p > 0.05 between the second and the third measurements; and p = 0.382 between the first and the third measurements. B. Results of research in the components of the “Personal Distress” (PD) subscale and the “Fantasy” (FS) subscale Table 5.  Statistic description of the FS and PD levels in the pretest and posttests in the experimental group and the control group Group

Experimental

FS1

FS2

FS3

PD1

PD2

PD3

M

 

12.49

15.73

15.41

14.05

9.68

9.93

N

41

41

41

41

41

41

SD

1.791

1.582

1.565

2.449

1.877

2.005

MD

12

16

15

14

9

9

Maximum

17

18

18

19

17

18

Minimum

8

12

12

8

8

8

11.84

11.79

11.71

12.99

12.6

12.67

M Control

82

82

82

82

82

82

SD

n

1.895

1.81

1.842

2.831

2.748

2.699

MD

12

12

12

12

12

12

Legend: FS – Fantasy factor, PD – Personal Distress factor

Jana Stehlíková, Marta Valihorová

194

Table 6.  Significance of differences in the level of the FS and PD subscale variables between the experimental and control groups Mann-Whitney Variable FS1 FS2 FS3 PD1 PD2 PD3

Group

n

M

Experimental

41

12

Control

82

12

Experimental

41

16

Control

82

12

Experimental

41

15

Control

82

12

Experimental

41

14

Control

82

12

Experimental

41

9

Control

82

12

Experimental

41

9

Control

82

12

U value

p

1347.500

.067

208

.000

261.500

.000

1248.000

.019

545.000

.000

589.500

.000

Based on the Mann-Whitney test results, it can be stated that the difference manifested by the change in the Fantasy (FS) subscale level in the first posttest after termination of the intervention programme proved to be statistically significant at the significance level of p < 0.001, and in the third measurement, i.e., in the second posttest 5 months after termination of the intervention programme at the significance level of p < 0.001. In the pretest before the intervention programme, the control and experimental groups did not differ significantly in the Fantasy (FS) subscale: p = 0.067, i.e., p > 0.05. There was a statistically significant difference between the control and the experimental groups in the Personal Distress subscale before the intervention programme, i.e., in the pretest, since p = 0.019, i.e., p > 0.05, which we perceive as a positive indicator. This can be explained also by the fact that Personal Distress is a subscale that is easily influenced by the respondents’ momentary situation, by momentary distress; persons experiencing difficult stress situations could be precisely in the experimental group, experiencing “distress” at that very moment, however from the point of view of our testing of the experiment we can say that it was the experimental group where a higher value of the Personal Distress (PD) subscale was recorded, which was a great challenge for us to teach the students to adequately process and eliminate their negative emotions connected with distress.

Possibilities of Targeted Development

195

Table 7.  Significance of differences in the FS and PD subscale variables in the experimental group in the pretest and posttests by Wilcoxon testing  

Group

M

AM

AD

FS pre

1

12

12.49

1.791

FS post1

1

16

15.73

1.582

FS pre

1

12

12.49

1.791

FS post2

1

15

15.41

1.565

FSpost1

1

16

15.73

1.582

FS post2

1

15

15.41

1.565

PD pre

1

14

14.05

2.449

PD post1

1

9

9.68

1.877

PD pre

1

14

14.05

2.449

PD post2

1

9

9.93

2.005

PD post1

1

9

9.68

1.877

PD post2

1

9

9.93

2.005

Z

p

-5.267

.000

-5.285

.000

-3.357

.001

-5.257

.000

-5.19

.000

-2.637

.010

Legend: 1 – experimental group, n = 41

The results of data analysis by Wilcoxon testing, as seen in Table 7, show that significant differences were found in the experimental group between the pretest and the first posttest (before and after the intervention programme), i.e., p < 0.001, as well as between the pretest and the second posttest (before and 5 months after the intervention programme), i.e., p < 0.001 in both studied variables, the Fantasy (FS) and Personal Distress subscales. Significant changes were found in the Fantasy subscale between individual posttests, since p = 0.001, i.e., p < 0.05; it was a change in time, which, however, we perceive and interpret as natural. Some differences were found also in the Personal Distress (PD) subscale between individual posttests, since p = 0.010, i.e., p < 0.05. No significant changes were found in the control group between individual measurements of the Fantasy (FS) subscale, i.e., no significant differences manifested either between the first measurement (pretest) and the second measurement (posttest 1), p = 0.605, i.e., p < 0.05, nor were there any significant changes between the second (posttest 1) and the third measurement (posttest 2), since p = 0.066, i.e., p < 0.05. Also, there were no significant changes between the pretest and the second measurement (posttest 2), p = 0.197, i.e., p < 0.05.

196

Jana Stehlíková, Marta Valihorová

The Personal Distress variable recorded no significant changes between individual posttests, p = 0.326, i.e., p < 0.05, however, significant changes were found between the pretest and the first measurement, as well as between the pretest an the second measurement, since p = 0.000, i.e., p < 0.001. We explain it by the fact that the Personal Distress factor is a specific variable and it is influenced by a whole range of extrinsic and intrinsic factors, in our view its fluctuation in time is acceptable (momentary situation, persistent traumatic experiences, health condition, momentary psychological condition, etc.). We found statistically significant differences in the individual measurements of the Fantasy (FS) as well as Personal Distress (PD) subscale levels in the experimental group. The significant changes showed stability in time even 5 months after the intervention programme.

Discussion Our research task was to test the effectiveness of our intervention programme “E” – empathy development programme, in an experimental group of students – future teachers. Although some studies in the field of social work or nursing state either zero and some even negative effect of training programmes on the level of empathy (e.g., LaMonica, Wolf et al., 1987, Vinton and Harrington, 1994), or they speak about a minimum positive effect of training programmes on the level of empathy (Corcoran, 1982, Herbek and Yammarino, 1990), we can state, based on the data analysis results of the experimental group participating in experiential intervention and the group not participating in any intervention programme during testing, desirable significant changes in the level of all four variables, in terms of an increase in the level of emotional empathy (EC), in terms of an increase in the cognitive component of empathy (PT), as well as in terms of an increase in the “Fantasy” (FS) factor and in terms of the reduction of the Personal Distress (PD) factor in the experimental group. S.L. Hatcher et al. (Hatcher, Nadeau, Wahl, 1994) administered M.H. Davis’s Interpersonal Reactivity Index questionnaire to 104 high school and college students before taking part in a Rogerian course of peer-counselling skills and after its termination. During the training in 7 smaller groups, the students were solving identical model situations to develop their empathic skills. According M.H. Davis (1983), the Emotional Concern (EC) subscale, Perspective Taking (PT) subscale and Fantasy (FS) subscale increase with age, whereas

Possibilities of Targeted Development

197

the Personal Distress (PD) subscale decreases with age under the influence of personal maturity. The students’ score in the Emotional Concern (EC) subscale, Perspective Taking (PT) subscale as well as the so-called average empathic score increased statistically significantly after the completion of the Rogerian training. Therefore, the authors of the study could verify the hypothesis that students’ empathy can improve by training. The Personal Distress score did not change after the training. It was also proved that college students increased their empathy through the empathy training more significantly than high school students. P.I. Erera compared a cognition – oriented empathy training programme and an emotion-oriented empathy training programme for helping professionals, carried out with 51 social work students working with clients during their practical training. The empathy-oriented programme conducted by a supervisor with real clients was focused mainly on a thorough and accurate cognitive understanding of their problems. The students constructed cognitive hypotheses based on clients’ statements and verified them subsequently with the help of the supervisor. On the other hand, the emotion-oriented training programme emphasized and put emotional experiences in the first place in student-client conversations, while the supervisor’s feedback was more individualized. The author did not find any statistically significant differences in emotional empathy outcomes before the beginning and after termination of the empathic training forms, however, she was of the opinion that the qualitative analysis of the students’ and the supervisor’s statements suggested that their empathy had increased. Although the intervention programme we had developed and verified was effective in the studied variables, we are aware that conclusions of any research should be objectively assessed in the context of various research limitations. The following is specification of limitations in our research: 1. Due to the complexity of technical provisions for the intervention programme, the limited number of students in the training group, the research sample was limited to 41 respondents in the experimental group. 2. The so-called self-report approach, based on subjectivity, misrepresented self-reporting items in questionnaires measuring tendencies to empathic behaviour. The methodological limitations of the research can be overcome only by follow-up research correcting and expanding the obtained research results.

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