Increasing Empathy in Middle School Youth: Effects of Social Skills Training on Sixth Grade Students

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 1-1-2007


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name



Counselor Education and Supervision (ExCES)


School of Education

Committee Chair

William J. Casile

Committee Member

David Delmonico

Committee Member

Laura Crothers


empathy, middle school, prosocial skills, Second Step, sixth grade students, social skills


This study assessed changes in the empathy of sixth graders. Empathy was measured by the Empathy-Teen Conflict Scale (EMP; Bosworth and Espelage, 1995) and the Emotional Empathy Scale (EmEMP; Caruso and Mayer, 1998). Changes in social skills knowledge and understanding, as measured by scores on the Second Step Knowledge and Skill Acquisition Survey (SS-1; Committee for Children, 1997), were examined. The study also evaluated how the measures of social skills knowledge and empathy co-related. The sample was an extant data set of 238 sixth grade students in three Western Pennsylvania middle schools. These schools implemented the Committee for Children's Second Step: A Violence Prevention Curriculum (Second Step) in order to advance the development of social skills learning and prosocial behavior, and to decrease the development of social, emotional, and behavioral problems. The Second Step curriculum is designed to develop social and emotional skills in empathy, impulse control, problem solving, and anger management. While research over the past seven years supports behavioral changes in students participating in the Second Step program (Committee for Children, 2006), effect on the construct of empathy has not been measured. This outcome evaluation used a pretest/posttest, pre-experimental group design. An ANOVA and a Pearson Correlation were used to analyze the data. The results indicated that students increased their social skills knowledge and understanding from pre- to post-assessment, but empathy did not increase. Possible reasons for the results are explored and future research recommendations are provided.





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