Fostering empathy, compassion, and prosocial behavior in children is important for society. This research will examine a possible avenue to foster these virtuous characteristics in preschool children. In particular, it will examine whether screen or print media, with which children spend a good deal of time, can foster these characteristics. Can the content of print or screen media influence children’s own empathy, compassion, and prosocial behavior? If so, is print more effective than screen, or less, or are they equally effective? A more general question addressed by this research is do children transfer what they experience in fictional worlds to real ones, and if so, under what circumstances is that transfer most likely? The main activities will be running experiments to determine what kinds of media best foster compassion (stories or videos, and ones with fantasy events or realistic events), along with child characteristics that interact with those stimuli, and disseminating results to conferences, journals, and popular media. An innovative aspect of our research is comparison of different media forms. Most laboratories focus on a single form; by comparing screen and print media, we aim to shed light on children’s information processing of media. In addition, much research on screen media has focused on aggression. Our focus on empathy and compassion is aligned with positive psychology and the goals of the Templeton Foundation. The outcome will be knowledge about how children’s print and screen media can instill empathy, compassion, and prosocial behavior. We expect parents’ and schools’ selection of media and producers’ creation of media will be influenced by this information, increasing societal empathy and compassion.
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