Title of Presentation

Session D: The relationship between animal interactions, empathy, and prosocial behavior among children and preliminary exploration of the RedRover Readers empathy program as an intervention strategy

Presenter Information

Nicole Y. Forsyth, RedRoverFollow

Sub-theme

Research and Theory

Keywords

empathy, prosocial behavior, children, animals, social and emotional learning, humane education, human-animal bond, early intervention, RedRover Readers

Start Date

12-10-2018 1:30 PM

End Date

12-10-2018 2:45 PM

Abstract

Early relationships with pets are the first relationships children have any control over and because of this they have the potential to shape future relationships with other animals and people. Developing a better understanding of how interactions with animals relate to the development of empathy and prosocial behavior has implications for the development of intervention strategies to strengthen the human-animal bond and increase the welfare of both animals and people.

The first part of the presentation will review research conducted by The New School for Social Research in partnership with RedRover, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, that investigated the relationship between empathy, prosocial behavior and the frequency of humane interactions with animals among 3rd grade children (N = 158). We measured the frequency of interacting with animals via the Children’s Treatment of Animals Questionnaire (Thompson & Gullone, 2003), empathy via the Bryant Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents (Bryant, 1982), and prosocial behavior via teachers’ evaluations of children's' helpfulness towards others in the classroom. Results showed that children who more frequently interacted with animals reported greater empathy. Additionally, higher frequency of animal interactions was indirectly related to prosocial behavior (i.e., empathy fully mediated the relationship between children’s interactions with animals and prosocial behavior). Results highlight the behavioral consequences and positive socio-emotional benefits of interacting with animals. Furthermore, the research provides support for empathy as a critical mediating factor through which positive interactions with animals lead to prosocial behavior in children.

The second part of the presentation will explore the RedRover Readers school-based empathy program as a possible intervention strategy, reviewing existing research that supports the instructional strategies, research conducted to date to evaluate its effectiveness and conclude with a discussion on possible next steps for further research. Earlier research conducted by the New School for Social Research, suggest high-quality literature increases Theory of Mind, a cognitive component of empathy (Kidd & Castano, 2013). In the RedRover Readers program, a trained facilitator uses well-told, illustrated stories to guide elementary-age students to analyze a story and illustrations to decode meaning, learn from each other and think more deeply through open-ended questions that connect what they are learning with their own prior experiences and emotions. Teachers ask questions to illicit empathetic responses, make explicit their understanding of animal behavior and emotions and generate conversations like: “How do you think Buddy (a dog chained up) is feeling in this picture?” “How do you know?” Extension activities after the reading and discussion provide additional discovery opportunities.

A critical review of measures used to evaluate the RedRover Readers program, including a new validated measure to assess children’s understanding of animal emotion, an adaptation of the DANVA (Nowicki & Carton, 1989) – a measure of mentalizing, will be included. Understanding the extent to which the RedRover Readers program may mediate empathy development, treatment of animals and pro-social behavior, has implications for the development of intervention strategies designed to prevent abuse and neglect and promote connections and well-being between people and animals.

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Oct 12th, 1:30 PM Oct 12th, 2:45 PM

Session D: The relationship between animal interactions, empathy, and prosocial behavior among children and preliminary exploration of the RedRover Readers empathy program as an intervention strategy

Early relationships with pets are the first relationships children have any control over and because of this they have the potential to shape future relationships with other animals and people. Developing a better understanding of how interactions with animals relate to the development of empathy and prosocial behavior has implications for the development of intervention strategies to strengthen the human-animal bond and increase the welfare of both animals and people.

The first part of the presentation will review research conducted by The New School for Social Research in partnership with RedRover, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, that investigated the relationship between empathy, prosocial behavior and the frequency of humane interactions with animals among 3rd grade children (N = 158). We measured the frequency of interacting with animals via the Children’s Treatment of Animals Questionnaire (Thompson & Gullone, 2003), empathy via the Bryant Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents (Bryant, 1982), and prosocial behavior via teachers’ evaluations of children's' helpfulness towards others in the classroom. Results showed that children who more frequently interacted with animals reported greater empathy. Additionally, higher frequency of animal interactions was indirectly related to prosocial behavior (i.e., empathy fully mediated the relationship between children’s interactions with animals and prosocial behavior). Results highlight the behavioral consequences and positive socio-emotional benefits of interacting with animals. Furthermore, the research provides support for empathy as a critical mediating factor through which positive interactions with animals lead to prosocial behavior in children.

The second part of the presentation will explore the RedRover Readers school-based empathy program as a possible intervention strategy, reviewing existing research that supports the instructional strategies, research conducted to date to evaluate its effectiveness and conclude with a discussion on possible next steps for further research. Earlier research conducted by the New School for Social Research, suggest high-quality literature increases Theory of Mind, a cognitive component of empathy (Kidd & Castano, 2013). In the RedRover Readers program, a trained facilitator uses well-told, illustrated stories to guide elementary-age students to analyze a story and illustrations to decode meaning, learn from each other and think more deeply through open-ended questions that connect what they are learning with their own prior experiences and emotions. Teachers ask questions to illicit empathetic responses, make explicit their understanding of animal behavior and emotions and generate conversations like: “How do you think Buddy (a dog chained up) is feeling in this picture?” “How do you know?” Extension activities after the reading and discussion provide additional discovery opportunities.

A critical review of measures used to evaluate the RedRover Readers program, including a new validated measure to assess children’s understanding of animal emotion, an adaptation of the DANVA (Nowicki & Carton, 1989) – a measure of mentalizing, will be included. Understanding the extent to which the RedRover Readers program may mediate empathy development, treatment of animals and pro-social behavior, has implications for the development of intervention strategies designed to prevent abuse and neglect and promote connections and well-being between people and animals.