American Sociological Association

Do Sociology Courses Make More Empathetic Students? A Mixed-Methods Study of Empathy Change in Undergraduates

Assessing course goals is often challenging; assessing an abstract goal, like empathy, can be especially so. For many instructors, empathy is central to sociological thinking. As such, fostering empathy in students is a common course goal. In this article, we report the initial findings of a semester-long assessment of empathy change in undergraduate students (N = 619). We employ a mixed-methods research design that utilizes qualitative instructor data to determine independent instructor-level variables and student surveys to measure student empathy change. We compare empathy change between students enrolled in introductory sociology classes to students not enrolled in sociology classes and test which student and instructor variables predict empathy change. We find that students taking sociology classes have positive empathy change compared to those who do not. We interpret these findings as evidence that study of sociology promotes empathy development and discuss implications for the classroom and further research.

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Ashley Rockwell, Chris M. Vidmar, Penny Harvey, and Leanna Greenwood





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