How adolescent empathy and prosocial behavior change in the context of school culture: a two-year longitudinal study.
This research examined longitudinal change in empathy and prosocial behavior and their relationship with longitudinal change in school culture in high school adolescents. Few investigators have examined the fundamental importance of empathy-related responding and prosocial behavior and even fewer investigators have examined empathy itself in adolescence (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990). There is relatively little research concerning the socialization of empathy in adolescents (Eisenberg, 2006). However, there has been an increasing interest in empathy and its socialization (Eisenberg, Guthrie, Cumberland, Murphy, Shepard, Zhou, et al., 2002), which is probably due to the theoretical and empirical association between empathy and prosocial behavior (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990).
Development of Empathy
Empathy is an affective response that stems from the apprehension or comprehension of another's emotional state or condition, feeling similar to what the other person is feeling or would be expected to feel (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1999). Empathy is an integral means of knowing and relating to others (Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989) and adds to the quality of life and the richness of social interactions (Hoffman, 2000). Empathy seems to play a key role in the development of social understanding and positive social behaviors (Schultz, Selman, & LaRusso, 2003) and serves as the foundation for relationships and also provides a basis for coping with stress and resolving conflict (Kremer & Dietzen, 1991).
It has been argued that empathy may best be considered a set of related constructs including both emotional and cognitive components (Davis, 1983). The cognitive components have focused on perspective taking, an individual's ability to view situations from a third-person perspective by taking account of one's own and others' subjective perspectives (Eisenberg, 1990). The emotional components include feelings of warmth, compassion, and concern for others (Davis, 1983). A third aspect of empathy, personal distress, is a self-focused, aversive, affective reaction to the apprehension of another's situation (Batson, 1991), which is believed to result in the desire to avoid contact with the needy or distressed person if possible (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1999).
Research has shown that empathy increases with age (Eisenberg, Shell, Pasternack, Lennon, Beller, & Mathy, 1987; Eisenberg, Miller, Shell, & McNally, 1991; Eisenberg, Carlo, Murphy, & Van Court, 1995). As the individual develops from infancy to adolescence, both perspective-taking and emotional concern develop and reach adult levels while personal distress decreases (Davis & Franzoi, 1991). Eisenberg and her colleagues (1987; 1991; 1995) showed that self-reflective perspective-taking and other-oriented judgments tend to emerge in late childhood and increase through adolescence. These abilities often take so long to emerge because of the complexity of interactions between the affective and cognitive aspects of perspective-taking and regard for others in relation to behavior (Schultz et al., 2003). As the child's cognitive perspective-taking skills develop with age, the self-oriented distress reaction (personal distress) is gradually transformed into a more other-oriented form of distress--feelings of compassion for the other (emotional concern). By late adolescence ah individual has gained the ability to consider multiple perspectives, feel concern, and incorporates them when analyzing and acting upon situations (Eisenberg, 1990).
Development of Prosocial Behavior
Empathic responding has been the cornerstone of several theories of prosocial behavior (Hoffman, 1975; Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006). Prosocial behavior is any purposive action on behalf of someone else that involves a net cost to the helper (Hoffman, 1994). Evidence indicates that feeling empathy for a person in need is an important motivator in helping (Batson, Duncan, Ackerman, Buckley, & Birch, 1981). Individual differences in empathy are related to individual differences in prosocial behavior during adolescence (Eisenberg et al., 1995; Bierhoff & Rohmann, 2004) and into early adulthood (Eisenberg et al., 2002).
During adolescence there are significant changes in socio-cognitive skills and affective responses. These changes have been conceptually and empirically linked with the development of prosocial behaviors. Therefore, adolescence would be expected to be a period of growth for prosocial tendencies (Eisenberg, 1990). Researchers have argued that the emergence of prosocial behavior is influenced by the development of perspective-taking skills (Moore, 1990). Eisenberg and her colleagues (1983; 1987; 1991; 1995; 1999) found that adolescents' emotional concern was positively related to helping and self-reported prosocial behavior. However, Tisak, Maynard, and Tisak (2002) demonstrated that adolescents consider the situation (e.g., accidental, academic, social) in determining whether they would respond in a prosocial manner. Twenge, Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, and Bartels (2007) showed that temporary feelings of rejection impact adolescents' prosocial behavior, suggesting that subtle interactions between individuals and contexts may be important considerations in predicting prosocial behavior. This necessitates further exploration to understand whether and how environments are related to prosocial behavior. This study examined its relationship with the school environment specifically.
Students often experience an unwritten or hidden curriculum distinguished by informality and lack of conscious planning (Wren, 1999). This unwritten curriculum has often been defined as school culture or the character of the school as it reflects the patterns of values, beliefs, and traditions that have been formed over the years (Power, Higgins, & Kohlberg, 1989). Such values and beliefs regularly shared in an organization can shape members' perceptions, feelings, and behavior (Power et al., 1989; Mitchell & Willower, 1992). Research has shown that students' positive perceptions of their school's culture increased their academic motivation (Maehr & Fyans, 1989) and decreased disciplinary problems (Purkey, 1990). A positive school culture might protect adolescents from experiencing emotional and behavioral problems (Baker, 1998), and can create a context critical for the development of self-esteem (Way & Robinson, 2003) and positive peer relations (Way & Greene, 2006).
A positive school culture is one where teachers and students care about and support one another, share common values, norms, goals, and a sense of belonging and participate in and influence group decisions. Prosocial behavior appears to be fostered in younger children (Battistich, Solomon, & Watson, 1997) and in adolescents (Carlo, Fabes, Laible, & Kupanoff, 1999; Eisenberg, 2006) in such schools and classrooms especially if they promote the concepts of connectedness and cooperation. Teacher practices that stimulate active student participation and teachers who model positive interpersonal behavior are critical to building a sense of community among school students (Kohlberg & Higgins, 1987; Higgins, 1991; Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, & Schaps, 1995). Therefore, good quality relationships within the school are important to create a sense of connection to the school (Baker, 1998). Moreover, when students share in the creation and enactment ofprosocial school community norms, their sense of ownership for the school community compels behavior change especially for adolescents on the fringe of school life (Power et al., 1989).
Few studies have examined the relationship among school culture, empathy, and prosocial behavior in adolescence. A positive school culture was related to the prosocial behavior and socio emotional adjustment of students in a large-scale study of 188 schools (Brand, Felner, Shim, Seitsinger, & Dumas, 2003). Markman (2002), however, found that students who perceived their school's culture as more positive did not engage in more prosocial behavior per se but they connected their prosocial behaviors to their sense of morality whereas those who perceived the school culture as less positive and acted prosocially in that context did not see their own moral sense as the motivator, which suggests their prosocial behavior will be less generalizable. Flanagan, Bowes, Jonsson, Csapo, and Sheblanova (1998) found that adolescents' reports of a positive sense of caring in their school and the extent to which adolescents felt that their teachers encouraged student autonomy were significantly related to the prosocial civic commitments of the students. More recently, Barr and Higgins-D'Alessandro (2007) found that more positive student-peer relationships and more positive relationships between teachers and students were related to students' positive emotional concern for others. In addition, a positive view of the school's normative expectations related positively to students' perspective-taking. These studies also show links between moral motivation, empathy, perspective-taking, positive school culture and prosocial behavior; however, clear links predicting prosocial behavior from individual characteristics and perceptions of school culture have yet to be determined.
The current study was conducted in a traditional public high school, which houses a Just Community School. The Just Community is a "school-within-a-school," that is an entirely voluntary, self-selecting, democratic program based upon Kohlberg's theory of moral education (Power et al., 1989) and on his idea that the goal of education should be development (Kohlberg & Mayer, 1972). The school bases its practices on a theory that social cognitive moral development is best promoted at the high school level through the practice of democracy. This guided the school in the creation of various activities where students deliberate on issues of justice, fairness, and caring. The goal of these activities is to learn to take various perspectives into consideration, to become less egocentric and bound by peer norms, and to become more able to take a community perspective that represents the common good. The Just Community model of school democracy involves an effort to develop more responsible individual and community moral action as well as to enhance individual moral reasoning and school culture (Kohlberg, 1985). Attending a Just Community high school, as opposed to a traditional high school, theoretically offers an increased opportunity for students to take the perspective of others, both students and teachers, and allow students to reflect and reason about their responses to other people's needs and plight. However, because we did not have data from multiple schools, we could not draw conclusions because the two school environments likely differed on a variety of factors. But since we sought to examine the degree to which the perception of a positive school culture was linked to empathy and prosocial behavior, having a sample of students that would produce varied perceptions of school culture was helpful.
The first purpose of this study was to examine longitudinal changes in school culture, empathy, and prosocial behavior in the Just Community School and the traditional high school. Research has shown that empathy increases with age during adolescence but that prosocial behavior remains fairly level (Eisenberg et al., 1991; 1995), and the few existing studies suggest that students' perceptions of school culture may become either more positive or negative over time. Therefore, we expected that students in the Just Community School would see greater positive changes in school culture and report a greater increase in perspective-taking, emotional concern, and prosocial behavior, and a greater decrease in personal distress from year one to year two than did students in the traditional high school.
Since prior research has found longitudinal correlations between empathy and prosocial behavior (Eisenberg et al., 1983; 1987; 1991; 1995), the second purpose of this study was to examine the relationship among the three aspects of empathy (perspective-taking, emotional concern, personal distress) as well as the relationship between empathy and prosocial behavior. Specifically, we expected that longitudinal change in prosocial behavior would be positively associated with longitudinal change in perspective-taking and emotional concern, and negatively associated with longitudinal change in personal distress. Also, we hypothesized that longitudinal change in perspective-taking and emotional concern would be positively associated with each other and negatively associated with longitudinal change in personal distress.
The third purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between longitudinal change in school culture and longitudinal change in both empathy and prosocial behavior. Specifically, we expected that longitudinal change in school culture would be positively associated with longitudinal change in perspective-taking, emotional concern, and prosocial behavior, and be negatively related with longitudinal change in personal distress.
Thirty adolescents in the tenth (n = 25) and eleventh (n = 5) grades in year one participated in the study. The traditional high school has 1,237 students and the Just Community School has 75 students, 25 in each of the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Of the 30 participants, 13 were Just Community students and 17 were traditional high school students. Nine males and 21 females participated with a mean age of 15.4 years (SD = .50). The sample was primarily Caucasian (n = 24, 80%), with smaller numbers of African Americans (n = 1, 3%), Latinos (n = 1, 3%), and Asians (n = 3, 10%). One participant did not report ethnicity. Our sample mirrored the high school population, in which 82% were Caucasian, 2% African American, 3% Latino, and 14% Asian.
The School Culture Scale (SCS; Higgins-D'Alessandro & Sadh, 1997) is a 25-item Likert-scale that measures students' perceptions of their school culture. Items range from one (not true at all) to five (very true) and higher scores indicate a more positive school culture. Examples of items are "Students generally treat each other with respect and fairness" and "Teachers give students a say in decisions about school rules." Higgins-D'Alessandro and Sadh (1997) tested the SCS with 123 students from an urban high school. Fifty-seven of these students were in a Just Community School within the larger high school. They found that students in the Just Community School had significantly higher scores than students in the larger high school. Higgins-D'Alessandro and Sadh (1997) found that the SCS had adequate psychometric properties across the two samples, demonstrating divergent and convergent validity. For the current study, Cronbach's alpha was .76 in year one and .77 in year two.
The Self-Report Altruism Scale (SRA; Rushton, Chrisjohn, & Fekken, 1981) assesses how often participants engage in behaviors such as volunteer work or helping strangers in particular situations. The scale consists of 20 Likert-scale items ranging from one (never) to five (very often). Examples of items are "I have helped carry a stranger's belongings (books, parcels, etc.)" and "I have helped a classmate who I did not know that well with a homework assignment when my knowledge was greater than his or hers." The SRA has been used with an adolescent population and found to have adequate psychometric properties (Markman, 2002). For the current study, Cronbach's alpha was .73 in year one and .85 in year two.
Davis (1980) developed a multidimensional self-report instrument, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) that measures individual differences in empathy and was used in this study to measure both cognitive and affective empathy. The 28-item Likert-scale consists of four subscales each tapping some concept of empathy. Items range from one (does not describe me well) to five (describes me very well). The perspective-taking subscale assesses the tendency to spontaneously adopt the psychological point of view of others. Ah example item is "I try to look at everybody's side of a disagreement before I make a decision." The emotional concern subscale assesses other-oriented feelings or concerns. An example item is "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me." The personal distress subscale measures self-oriented feelings of personal anxiety and unease in tense interpersonal settings. An example item is "In emergency situations, I feel apprehensive and ill-at-ease." The IRI includes a fantasy subscale that taps respondents' tendencies to transpose themselves imaginatively into the feelings and actions of fictitious characters in books, movies, and plays that was not administered in the current study. For the current study in year 1, Cronbach's alphas were .82, .64, and .87 for perspective-taking, emotional concern, and personal distress, respectively. In year 2 Cronbach's alphas were .82, .75, and .81 for perspective-taking, emotional concern, and personal distress, respectively.
The procedure of recruiting students was the same for both years. All data were collected within the first 10 weeks of the school year in both the Just Community School and the traditional high school. All students who attended the Just Community School were recruited in their community meeting. Students who attended the traditional high school were recruited through their health classes. The research was explained and parental consent forms were distributed. After returning parent consent forms, students completed the questionnaire packet during either their community meeting or health class the following week.
The analyses consisted of bootstrap and resampling procedures. The procedures were carried out in Microsoft Excel by means of a statistical add-in. Each bootstrap sample was generated by re-sampling the variables as described by Efron and Tibshirani (1993). A bootstrap empirical test distribution of each study variable was constructed in order to test the statistical significance of the differences between schools and between years one and two. Distributions of mean differences between variables were constructed by random sampling with replacement and then calculating the mean difference. This random sampling and calculation of mean differences was conducted 10,000 times, thus creating a distribution of 10,000 mean differences. Confidence levels were then established using the randomization distribution at the 95% level. If, in our sample, the mean difference between two variables fell outside the 95% confidence level, the difference was considered significant (i.e., p [less than or equal to] .05). The same procedure was conducted for all correlation analyses with random sampling and calculation of correlations conducted 10,000 times creating a distribution of 10,000 correlation coefficients. Again, confidence levels were established using the randomization distribution at the 95% level.
Means and standard deviations of all the study variables in years 1 and 2 for the Just Community and traditional high school are reported in Table 1.
Differences between the two school environments were investigated first. As shown in Table 2, the Just Community students scored higher (more positive) on the School Culture Scale than the traditional high school students in both years one and two. However, there were no differences between schools on the Self-Report Altruism Scale in year one or year two. There also were no significant differences between schools on any scale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index in year one or year two. Thus, the only difference between the school samples was perception of school culture.
Pearson correlations among all variables for each school were conducted to examine the degree of change among the variables and are reported in Table 3.
Longitudinal changes in school culture, empathy, and prosocial behavior in the Just Community and the traditional high school were then examined to investigate differences in change over one year and are reported in Table 4. The Just Community students scored significantly higher (more positive) on the School Culture Scale in year two than in year one. However, traditional high school students did not score higher on the School Culture Scale in year two than in year one. For the Self-Report Altruism Scale, students did not differ between year one and year two within the Just Community School, but traditional high school students reported significantly more prosocial behavior in year two than year one. For each subscale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, students did not differ between year one and year two within either school.
Thus, analyses pertaining to the first purpose of this study, examining longitudinal changes in school culture, empathy, and prosocial behavior, showed two significant changes. Just Community students significantly increased their positive perception of their school's culture from year one to year two and traditional high school student significantly increased their prosocial behavior from year one to year two.
Change scores in school culture, empathy, and prosocial behavior were calculated by subtracting year two scores from year one scores for each dependant variable. The use of change scores has been controversial. Gardner and Neufeld (1987) noted that change scores tend to have low reliabilities. They also indicated that there may be a lack of clarity as to whether the same phenomena are being measured at both times. However, they acknowledged that "there are many contexts in which correlational analyses involving change scores would appear to be appropriate" (p. 851). Therefore, it is necessary to address these criticisms before using the change scores. With regard to reliability of the scores in this study, change in the Self-Report Altruism scale had a Cronbach's alpha of .72, change in the School Culture Scale had a Cronbach's alpha of .74, and change in the Interpersonal Reactivity Index had a Cronbach's alpha of .74, .76, and .48 for perspective-taking, emotional concern, and personal distress, respectively. Regarding Gardner and Neufeld's other point about change scores as useful predictors, it seems unlikely that the concepts of school culture, empathy, and prosocial behavior changed radically for students over the course of one year. Because the measures were validated and used successfully with high school students (Higgins-D'Alessandro & Sadh, 1997; Eisenberg et al., 1995), it seems reasonable to assume that the items had similar meanings to the participants at the beginning of both school years. Thus, the scales were likely measuring the same construct at both times.
Partial correlations were calculated to examine the relationships among the longitudinal change scores for school culture, prosocial behavior, and the three empathy subscales, after statistically controlling for school type (Just Community or traditional). Consistent with the second purpose of the study, to examine relationships between change in empathy and prosocial behavior, the relationships among the change scores of the three empathy variables were explored first. The change in perspective-taking was positively associated with the change in emotional concern, r(27) = .47, (95% CI, -.39 to .35), and was negatively associated with change in personal distress, r(27) = .45, (95% CI, -.35 to .39). Personal distress and emotional concern were not significantly associated, r(27) = -.35, (95% CI, -.38 to .36). Then, the relationship between empathy and prosocial behavior was examined. The change in the Self-Report Altruism Scale was not associated with change in any empathy subscale: perspective-taking, r(27) = .13, (95% CI, -.37 to .36); emotional concern, r(27) = .27, (95% CI, -.36 to .37); and personal distress, r(27) = .04, (95% CI, -.36 to .36).
Thus, analyses pertaining to the second purpose of the study, examining the relationships between longitudinal change scores in empathy and prosocial behavior, showed two significant relationships--increases in perspective-taking were positively associated with emotional concern and negatively associated with personal distress.
Third, the relationship between the longitudinal change in school culture and the longitudinal change in empathy and prosocial behavior was examined. Change in school culture was positively associated with change in perspective-taking, r(27) = .45, (95% CI, -.37 to .35), and was negatively associated with change in personal distress, r(27) = -.56, (95% CI, -.37 to .36). However, change in school culture was not associated with change in emotional concern, r(27) = .21, (95% CI, -.35 to .37). Finally, there was no relationship between the change in school culture and the change in the Self-Report Altruism Scale, r(27) = -.07, (95% CI, -.36 to .36).
Thus, analyses pertaining to the third purpose of this study, examining the relationships among longitudinal change in school culture, empathy, and prosocial behavior, showed two significant relationships--increases in school culture were positively associated with perspective-taking and increases in school culture were negatively associated with personal distress. (See Table 5.)
A significant aspect of the current study was to show longitudinal changes in empathy, prosocial behavior, and school culture for the total sample. The hypotheses were only partially supported; however, a number of significant findings emerged that add to current knowledge on the development of empathy during adolescence and the association between the development of empathy, prosocial behavior, and school culture.
The first set of analyses examined differences between the two school environments. The Just Community students reported their school culture as more positive than did traditional high school students in both year one and year two. This is consistent with previous research (Power et al., 1989; Markman, 2002; Barr & Higgins-D'Alessandro, 2007) on the effect of democratic self-governance on high school students' views of their school. However, no differences were found between students in the two schools on perspective-taking, emotional concern, or personal distress which is also consistent with previous research (Barr & Higgins-D'Alessandro, 2007). Finally, no differences were found between students in the two schools on prosocial behavior, which is also consistent with previous research (Markman, 2002).
Research on prosocial behavior has shown that it is related to both emotional concern and perspective-taking abilities and that perspective-taking, emotional concern, and personal distress are related to each other (Eisenberg et al., 1983; 1987; 1991; 1995; 1999). This study found further support for these relationships. The change in perspective-taking was positively associated with change in emotional concern and negatively associated with change in personal distress, which is consistent with previous research (Davis & Franzoi, 1991). However, change in prosocial behavior was not associated with change on any empathy subscale. Research has shown that empathy increases with age but that prosocial behavior remains fairly level (Eisenberg et al., 1987; 1991; 1995), which is consistent with our results. This could account for the lack of association between the change in empathy and the change in prosocial behavior. It may also be true that one year may not be sufficient time to measure change in empathy. By mid-adolescence the cognitive and emotional components that support empathy may be nearly fully mature or at least developed to a stable point that is necessary for relatively mature empathy and/or prosocial responding. Future research should investigate the longitudinal change and relationships of empathy and prosocial behavior with a younger population and with a population across a wide range of ages from grade school youth through adulthood.
The primary focus of the current study was to explore the longitudinal associations of school culture with empathy and prosocial behavior. Change in school culture was not significantly associated with change in prosocial behavior. This is in contrast to previous research on the school environment and prosocial behavior (Carlo et al., 1999; Brand et al., 2003). However, most of the research on' the school environment and prosocial behavior has investigated elementary school children and prosocial behavior only within the school environment. The Self-Respect Altruism Scale used in the current study asked adolescents about their prosocial behavior in multiple contexts. Possibly, as adolescents gain more autonomy and independence, the school environment may not have as much influence on their decisions to act prosocially across varying contexts. There is evidence that adolescents consider the context of the helping situation (Tisak et al., 2002) necessitating further exploration to understand whether and how school culture is related to different aspects of prosocial behavior among adolescents.
Longitudinal relationships were found between empathy and school culture. Change in school culture was positively associated with change in perspective-taking. When a school is more of a caring community, students' sense of connectedness and cooperation should also be stronger. As schools provide more opportunities for more extensive and intensive student interactions with other students and with teachers, perspective-taking should be enhanced. Although not related to prosocial behavior in the current study, such opportunities for actively interacting with peers and teachers have been found to promote or support the ability of students to respond appropriately to others' situations, not just friends but other subgroups within the student population to which they may not belong (Power et al., 1989; Higgins, 1991). Although this sample was too small to investigate differences in students with high and low perspective-taking skills, it seems likely that the relationship between school culture and perspective-taking would be measuring the differences between the cognitive experiences of students who experience the school culture differently. It is also likely that students who are already high in perspective-taking might be better able to understand and respond appropriately to their peers and teachers. Such students would be viewed more positively by their peers and teachers and, therefore, would feel that their school environment is more positive than would those students who are unable to understand and respond appropriately to their peers and teachers. It is likely that both dynamics occur in schools, and further longitudinal research could investigate high and low empathy groups separately to better understand the conditions and mechanisms that would promote more perspective-taking in less skilled students and whether those conditions and mechanisms are the same or different as those for students with greater perspective-taking skills.
There was a negative association between change in personal distress and change in school culture. Part of the developmental process of empathy may consist of acquiring more elaborated empathy behaviors through more occasions that evoke emotional responsiveness and buffering against distancing, distracting, or avoidance patterns (Moore, 1990). Such schools, like both of the schools in this study, strongly encourage or require students to engage in community service, internships, and student body governance. Such experiences provide students with opportunities that require other-oriented thought and emotional responsiveness, and buffer them against developing or using avoidance patterns. Research by Yates (1999) supports this contention. But there is much controversy as to the mechanisms by which a capacity for empathy develops and whether it can be taught (Davis, 1980). These findings then suggest that such changes in empathy might not require formal interventions but rather might require more opportunities for adolescents to exercise cognitive and emotional responsiveness in their day-to-day lives.
The correlations presented in Table 3 for perspective-taking in the traditional high school are similar to those found in previous research using a similar sample and the same measures of perspective-taking that found significant moderate correlations (Eisenberg et al., 1995). However, Just Community students had higher correlations on perspective-taking as well as personal distress than did the traditional high school students, and they were higher than correlations found in previous research (Eisenberg et al., 1995). It is possible that being in a school environment that promotes more positive school culture may promote more generalizability; that is, consistently viewing a wider range of situations from a third person perspective and consistently minimizing the avoidance of helping across more situations. Future longitudinal research should use multiple measures of both emotion-based empathy and perspective-taking in order to understand which aspects of empathy may be more stable and which may be more context-sensitive.
There was no significant association between the change in school culture and the change in emotional concern. Since there was a negative association between school culture and personal distress, theoretically the relationship between emotional concern and school culture should be significantly positive. This calls into question the correlations in emotional concern from year one to year two presented in Table 3. The very low correlations between year one and year two for each school was surprising. Such low correlations are not consistent with previous research using a similar sample and the same measure of emotional concern, which found significant moderate correlations over one year (Eisenberg et al., 1995). Possibly, the small sample in this study exaggerated individual differences over time resulting in no net change. It may also be that emotional concern is a more labile feature of empathy, sensitive to contexts and to mood. Future research should address these questions by using multiple measures of emotion-based empathic responding.
While several significant longitudinal relationships were found between the empathy variables and school culture, such findings should be interpreted with caution due to the correlational study design. An important consideration is the possibility of a bidirectional relationship between empathy and school culture. The school's culture may influence students' empathic capabilities by providing more opportunities for adolescents to exercise empathic responsiveness in their day-today lives. Also, students' empathic capabilities may influence their perceptions of their school's culture through an increased ability to connect and cooperate with others in the school community. This intricate relationship needs to be further explored to expand our understanding of the socialization of empathy during the adolescent years.
This study was the first to assess the longitudinal associations between school culture and empathy, which is a clear strength of the study. However, the study does have limitations. A clear limitation is the sample size. A sample of 30 students is not sufficient to allow us to find small or medium effects at the .05 level of significance with a Pearson-product moment correlation (Cohen, 1992). Our sample allowed us to find only large effects at the .05 level of significance. This could account for several moderate correlations that were not statistically significant in the current data. A second limitation is that the sample came from one high school, although it represented students from both the traditional high school and a Just Community School within it. Therefore, no conclusions about the effects of the schools per se should be made. This is a limitation but also a strength since students reported culture differences that the School Culture Scale measure was sensitive enough to register. It would have been ideal to have more schools and to have given a pretest to participants before they entered the Just Community School; the lack of a pretest made it impossible to assess whether the differences found in school culture between the two schools was caused by exposure to certain school environments or whether there were preexisting preferences that influenced students to choose to enter a certain school environment. Future research should address these limitations by conducting a longitudinal study with a pretest in several schools.
The findings of this study and previous studies demonstrate that school culture may be useful in creating new interventions or policies, whether informal or formal, within the school. Effective schools have a culture of high academic expectations, a shared mission among teachers and administrators, a sense of efficacy among students, and the perception of a safe environment in which to learn (McEvoy & Walker, 2000). Therefore, the educational system should focus on creating more caring, positive school communities for adolescents. However, little intervention research has focused on organizational changes in schools to promote improvements in subjective perceptions of the school's culture. Interventions to improve school culture may need to have a broad focus on interpersonal and procedural dimensions (Kuperminc, Leadbeater, & Blatt,, 2001). Examples of such interventions are the School Development Program (Comer, Haynes, Joyner, & Ben-Avie, 1996), the Child Development Project (Solomon, Watson, Battistich, Schaps, & Delucchi, 1996), as well as the Just Community Approach (Kohlberg & Higgins, 1987; Power et al., 1989). These programs have demonstrated that intervening in the school setting by promoting more shared responsibility, promoting a greater sense of community within the school, and emphasizing collaboration and consensus, increased students' positive sense of their school's culture, improved social development, and increased academic achievement. However, research is only beginning to understand the mechanisms by which creating a positive school culture improves students' social-emotional responsiveness and social competence more generally.
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Ann Higgins-D'Alessandro, Department of Psychology, Fordham University.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Jason J. Barr, Department of Educational Leadership, School Counseling, and Special Education, Monmouth University, 400 Cedar Avenue, West Long Branch, NJ 07764. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Table 1--Means and standard deviations of the study variables in years 1 and 2 for the Just Community School and Traditional High School Just Community School Year 1 Year 2 Measure M SD M SD School Culture 3.55 .47 3.73 .63 Altruism 2.53 .44 2.63 .34 Perspective taking 3.46 .67 3.35 .73 Emotional concern 3.84 .35 3.89 .57 Personal distress 2.68 1.16 2.68 1.06 Traditional High School Year 1 Year 2 Measure M SD M SD School Culture 3.12 .50 3.23 .47 Altruism 2.42 .33 2.65 .65 Perspective taking 3.29 .86 3.29 .75 Emotional concern 4.02 .57 3.87 .69 Personal distress 3.06 .81 2.83 .53 Table 2--Differences between Just Community students and Traditional High School student Year 1 Year 2 Mean Mean Measure Difference 95% CI Difference 95% CI School Culture .43 * -.36 to .37 .51 * -.42 to .43 Altruism .11 -.26 to .27 -.01 -.38 to .38 Perspective taking .18 -.55 to .54 .05 -.53 to .51 Emotional -.18 .34 to .34 .02 -.46 to .45 concern Personal distress -.38 -.70 to .69 -.15 -.56 to .56 * p [less than or equal to] .05 Table 3--Correlations between the study variables in years 1 and 2 for the Just Community School and Traditional High School Just Community Traditional High Measure Pearson r 95% CI Pearson r 95% CI School .92 * -.56 to .55 .51 * -.46 to .50 Culture Altruism .62 * -.55 to 55 .59 * -.47 to .49 Perspective .73 * -.54 to .56 .51 * -.48 to .48 taking Emotional -.23 -.56 to .56 .21 -.49 to .48 concern Personal .93 * -.53 to .56 .45 -.50 to .48 distress * p [less than or equal to] .05 Table 4--Differences between year one and year two within each school Just Community School Traditional High School Mean 95% CI Mean 95% CI Measure Difference Difference School -.19 * .12 to 12 -.11 -.16 to 17 Culture Altruism -.11 -.l3 to 14 -.22 * -.19 to .19 Perspective .12 -.20 to .19 -.01 -.26 to .26 taking Emotional -.05 -.27 to .28 .14 -.27 to .26 concern Personal distress .01 -.16 to .17 .23 -.25 to 25 * p [less than or equal to] .05 Table 5--Partial Correlations among the Change Scores for all Scales Controlling for School Type Measure 1 2 3 4 5 1. School Culture -- -.05 .47 * .21 -.56 * 2. Altruism -- .14 .28 .02 3. Perspective taking -- .34 * -.44 * 4. Emotional concern -- -.35 5. Personal distress -- * p [less than or equal to] .05
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|Author:||Barr, Jason J.; Higgins-D'Alessandro, Ann|
|Article Type:||Case study|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2009|
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