Can Text Messages Increase Empathy and Prosocial Behavior? The Development and Initial Validation of Text to Connect
Communication Technology and New Media
Interpersonal and Small Group Communication
Personality and Social Contexts
Social and Behavioral Sciences
To what extent can simple mental exercises cause shifts in empathic habits? Can we use mobile technology to make people more empathic? It may depend on how empathy is measured. Scholars have identified a number of different facets and correlates of empathy. This study is among the first to take a comprehensive, multidimensional approach to empathy to determine how empathy training could affect these different facets and correlates. In doing so, we can learn more about empathy and its multifaceted nature. Participants (N = 90) were randomly assigned to receive either an empathy-building text message program (Text to Connect) or one of two control conditions (active versus passive). Respondents completed measures of dispositional empathy (i.e. self-perceptions of being an empathic person), affective empathy (i.e. motivations to help, immediate feelings of empathic concern), and prosocial behavior (i.e. self-reports and observer-reports) at baseline, and then again after the 14 day intervention period. We found that empathy-building messages increased affective indicators of empathy and prosocial behaviors, but actually decreased self-perceptions of empathy, relative to control messages. Although the brief text messaging intervention did not consistently impact empathy-related personality traits, it holds promise for the use of mobile technology for changing empathic motivations and behaviors.