Teaching empathy in school could lead to lower crime rates among teens

CAMBRIDGE, England — Young violent offenders have empathy levels 15 percent lower than less severe offenders and normal kids, a recent study reveals. Researchers suggest that if children were provided courses on cultivating empathy in school, crime rates among youth could decrease.

Other research has also shown higher empathy is linked to lower levels of aggression in under 18-year-olds, as well as reduced rates of weapon carrying and gang crime. Prisoners are also thought to have significantly higher levels of narcissism, in particular entitlement, showing a greater lack of concern for others.

They point to a German program that worked for 10 weeks aiming to increase empathy and reduce cyberbullying behavior. In a Turkish study, a bullying-focused school training found a reduction in 40 percent among pupils who took part, with the control group showing no change in their behavior.

“Empathy is crucial for supporting law-abiding behaviors and decisions, and traditional sources of empathy development, such as parents and teachers, are vital for the development of lawful behavior in children. Deficient empathy is a risk to all members of the community and occurs when children have inadequate or absent role models. If deficient empathy can be identified and addressed from infancy, we strongly believe that fewer incidents of harm and wrongdoing will occur in society,” says co-author Dr. Trivedi-Bateman, a senior lecturer in criminology at Anglia Ruskin University, in a statement.

“Our study highlights that targeted empathy training programs used in the U.S., Turkey and Germany can be beneficial. We also show that repetition and rehearsal of the empathy strengthening techniques are key to successful and longer-term outcomes, while the use of virtual reality technology, placing participants in ‘victim’ and ‘offender’ scenarios, are beneficial when used in cases of bullying and domestic abuse,” he adds. “So far, this has been a largely neglected area of crime policy focus but if the UK can adopt empathy training programs on a wider scale – involving parents, siblings, teachers, peers, and the criminal justice system, such as probation services – it could pave the way for a new and relatively low-cost approach to tackling crime in this country.”

The research is published in the journal Psychology, Crime and Law.

South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.