• Character Clearinghouse Logo

Empathy Toward Action: Exploring Empathy Development as the Foundation for Advocacy and Activism

Human beings are social creatures. Current and historical psychological research on human wellbeing recognizes that people are inextricably linked to their social environments and experience important benefit from such connection (Feeney & Collins 2015; Keyes 2007; Deci & Ryan 2000). The critical concept of empathy—taking on others’ internal, emotional state—enables the prosocial behaviors of community that build unity and peace. Empathy therefore is not a passive construct, but an active one. This notion is effectively articulated in Batson’s (2008) “empathy-altruism hypothesis” which posits that empathic concern engenders altruistic motivation to act. This presentation suggests empathy is the foundation for positive social action and advocacy. That said, researchers and practitioners point to both a decrease in empathy and an increase in narcissism in college students over the past several decades (Twenge 2013; Konrath, O’Brian, & Hsing 2011). This presentation will explore trends of empathy in college students, the connection between empathy and social action, and practices that help promote the development of empathy in a student culture where empathy seems to be on the decline.

Extension of Session Experience

Participants will be encouraged to consider how they are currently and can continue to support empathy development in college students. This will be a facilitated through discussion on empathy development theories and other relevant theory, techniques for promoting empathy development, and programs and possibilities in various functional areas. Further, participants will be challenged to make connections between empathy development and social action.

Important Question Explored

What is the connection between empathy and social action and how can educators augment empathy development in college students?


Jacob-150x150-2.jpgBrandon Jacob is a Resident Director at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 2014, he created a wellness-based living-learning community at Calvin, and currently serves as its program coordinator. Brandon is a graduate of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana where he received an M.A. in higher education with a research focus on the integration of faith and learning.



Haggerty-150x150.jpgAndrew Haggerty is the Associate Director of the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. Prior to this role, he worked at Calvin as a Resident Director and at the University of Georgia as a Graduate Assistant in the Center for Leadership & Service. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia (M.Ed. in College Student Affairs Administration) and Hope College in Holland, MI (B.A. in Psychology).