The development of empathy in adolescents attending a Just Community alternative high school

Jason Joseph Barr, Fordham University


The primary purpose of this study was to add to the current state of knowledge on the development of empathy during adolescence with a specific emphasis on the effects the school environment has on fostering the development of empathy. Few investigators have examined the importance of empathy-related responding and behavior toward other people and even fewer investigators have examined empathy in adolescence. This study took the multidimensional perspective of empathy and considered that empathy consists of both cognitive (perspective taking) and emotional (emotional empathy, personal distress) components. This research investigated whether a democratic school environment (the Just Community School), through the increased opportunity for students to empathize with other members of the school community, fosters the development of empathy, which would support more frequent altruistic behaviors compared to students attending a more traditional high school. Results showed that Just Community students reported their school culture as more positive than students in the traditional high school. School culture was found to influence how students felt about being altruistic. In addition, school culture was found to influence perspective taking while the school type (Just Community or traditional) was found to influence emotional empathy. Lastly, perspective taking influenced students' altruistic behavior while emotional empathy influenced both altruistic behavior and feelings about being altruistic. This study also investigated longitudinal change in empathy. school culture, and altruism over one year. There were no significant differences between year one and year two or between schools on empathy. There were significant differences between year one and year two on school culture and altruism for the total sample but there were no significant differences between schools. In summary, the educational system should focus on creating more caring, positive school communities for adolescents into order to stimulate more perspective taking, more emotional empathy, less personal distress, and more altruism among adolescent students.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Educational psychology|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Barr, Jason Joseph, "The development of empathy in adolescents attending a Just Community alternative high school" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3169377.