Can a Video Game Teach Children Empathy? | Inspiring Health | © Sacred Heart Hospital

Can a Video Game Teach Children Empathy?

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin­–Madison examined whether a video game can teach empathy to children.

The opening of Crystals of Kaydor is typical in the world of video games. The player takes on the role of a robot that has crashed on an alien planet. However, rather than face waves of enemies, the robot must work with the local alien population to rebuild its ship. Because the aliens don’t speak the robot’s language, the player must study their facial expressions and respond appropriately to progress through the game.

Crystals is not sold in stores—it was developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a study that examined whether video games can help teach empathy to children. The study showed that middle schoolers who played Crystals regularly for two weeks scored higher on empathy tests than children who played a commercial video game instead. The children who played Crystals also exhibited stronger connections in empathy-related brain networks.

“A video game that teaches a vital social development skill is a fantastic use of technology,” says Tim Volbrecht, LPC, CSAC, Outpatient Behavioral Counselor at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital’s L.E. Phillips-Libertas Treatment Center. “If we can teach children to care about others early in life, they’ll more likely become socially connected and conscious adults.”

Although more research is required, games such as Crystals may prove beneficial to children who struggle with social cues and empathy, including those with autism spectrum disorder.

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