Increasing Empathy in Elementary School Age Children

Graduation Date

Spring 2006

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


Lizbeth Martin, PhD

First Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

David Sitzer, PhD


An NICHD study (2001) concluded that the prevalence of bullying in US schools suggests a need for more research to understand, and devise ways to intervene against bullying. It has also been found that empathy is often lacking in bullies and their onlookers. Based on these findings, a five week art therapy course was designed that was hypothesized to increase empathy as it pertained to teasing among elementary school students.

The research was conducted at an elementary school in Palo Alto, Ca with 24 third, fourth and fifth grade students. Art therapy was used to develop some of the essential elements of empathy. The art directives asked students to identify their feelings about being the victim of a teasing incident, to draw portraits of those subjected to teasing as well as role play various teasing vignettes. In conclusion, the students created a mandala which highlighted positive outcomes for the victim.

The level of empathy was determined through the analysis of two measurements given at the beginning and ending of the study. The measures used were the Bryant Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents and a story completion exercise of a teasing vignette. Based on the fact that a significant number of student scores increased it was concluded that an art therapy course would have the potential to increase empathy among this population.

Only available in print