Empathy in social-emotional learning:
Measuring and increasing empathy in the academic context
Monday 18 May 2020 - 3:30-4:30 pm
The presentation will come in the form of an online webinar. Please register here to receive the link to the video-conference.
Empathy, one of the skills in Social and Emotional Learning and a priority of MOE's 21st Century Competencies, is an important educational outcome that has implications for mental health and well-being. Dr Ong will present two studies that measured and intervened on empathy among US college freshmen, who face numerous social and academic challenges during their transition to college. In the first study, we examined how students form new friendships during their transition to college by measuring their personality traits (including empathy) as well as their social networks. Individuals high in empathy were more central in social networks characterized by trust and close relationships, and this was likely because empathic individuals buffered others from stress. In a second study, we designed and tested three novel psychological interventions to increase empathy among college freshmen. In a field experiment, we randomly assigned participants to learn about the malleable nature of empathy (a mindset intervention); a second condition where they learnt about the social normativity of empathy (a norms intervention); a third condition that combined elements of both (a combined mindset and norms intervention); or a control condition. Eight weeks later, participants who received the mindset and combined interventions exhibited greater empathic accuracy on a behavioural task where they had to rate others' emotions, and reported making more friends since starting college, compared to controls. Together, these studies emphasize the importance of cultivating empathic traits and showcase interventions that effectively do so within an academic context.
Desmond Ong is an Assistant Professor of Information Systems and Analytics in the School of Computing at the National University of Singapore. He holds a concurrent appointment as a Research Scientist with the Institute of High Performance Computing, A*STAR. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology and his Masters in Computer Science, both from Stanford University in 2017. He graduated summa cum laude in Economics and magna cum laude in Physics from Cornell University in 2011. His research interests focus on emotion understanding, empathy, and mental state understanding. In his work, he applies a wide range of methods from behavioural experiments and computational modelling techniques (especially probabilistic methods, deep learning, and hybrid approaches that combine the two), and collaborates with many colleagues in studying these topics through developmental, neuroscientific, and clinical lenses; and through interventions and other methods like social networks analysis. See Dr Ong's webpage for more details.