Being able to have empathy for others, which means to understand and experience other people's feelings, is one of the main developmental goals in adolescence.
A study in Computers in Human Behavior shows that social media use increases teens' empathy for their peers.
- Teens who spend more time on social network sites have more empathy for their peers, meaning that they are better able to understand and share their friends’ feelings.
- For parents and educators it might be interesting to know that social media are an important tool for teenagers to practice their social skills.
How does teens’ social media use influence empathy?
942 Dutch teens (between 10 and 15 years of age; 50% boys); all ethnic and socio-economic background of the Netherlands were represented
The teens filled out a questionnaire about their social media use, cognitive empathy (understanding and recognizing someone else’s emotions), affective empathy (sharing emotions or feeling with other people’s emotions) as well as sympathy (feeling sorrow and concern about another person’s misfortune). Data collection happened at two time points. The first time point was between September and December 2012; the second between September and December 2013.
- Social media use was related to an increase in cognitive and affective empathy over time: Teens who used social media more frequently had better ability to understand (cognitive empathy) and to share the feelings of their peers (affective empathy).
- The positive effect of social media use was equally strong for affective and cognitive empathy.
- The frequency of social media use was not related to a teen’s level of sympathy.
- Critical Note: Conclusions should be drawn with caution, as only the frequency of usage but no other specifics about teens' usage of social network sites (e.g. activities and contacts) was assessed.
Helen G.M. Vossen & Patti M. Valkenburg
Vossen is affiliated with the Department of Clinical Child & Family Studies at Utrecht University (the Netherlands), and Valkenburg is working at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research at the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands).
Do social media foster or curtail adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study
Schlindwein, L. (2016, July 07). Social media use increases empathy for peers. Bitescience. Retrieved [date], from http://www.bitescience.com/knowledgedatabase.aspx.