Empathy and Compassion

Empathy provides an important foundation for social relationships. Students with empathy are able to understand others' perspectives and emotions. In addition, they tune into others' emotions and share those feelings with them.1

School programs to develop empathy can help students learn to identify their own and others’ emotions, self-regulate their emotions, take others’ perspectives, and develop prosocial behaviors.2 Making Caring Common offers five tips for helping students develop empathy:

  • show empathy by empathizing with students and with others
  • set high expectations for students around caring about others
  • help students practice empathy
  • help students expand their concern to care about more people
  • help students learn to manage their feelings and practice self-control
Read the full Making Caring Common resource.


Eton College


The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning at Eton College is committed to supporting students to develop character skills. Toward this end, The Tony Little Centre and RSI are partnering on a research project on empathy. We are carrying out a mixed methods, controlled experimental study to explore the impact of strategies created by Making Caring Common to promote the development of empathy. We will measure the impact of the strategies on empathy, perspective taking, and compassion in high school students at Eton. Stay tuned for the results from this study!

Holyport College


RSI is partnering with Holyport College to study the impact of strategies developed by Making Caring Common to support the development of empathy. We are carrying out a mixed methods, controlled experimental study to investigate the impact of the strategies on empathy, perspective taking, and compassion in middle and high school students at Holyport. Check back soon for results of this study. 


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Mid Pacific Institute


Mid-Pacific has a strong emphasis on developing students' character skills. To support this work, RSI and Mid-Pacific are collaborating on research on empathy. We are carrying out a series of studies to explore the impact of strategies designed to promote empathy developed by Making Caring Common. We will explore the impact of the strategies on elementary, middle, and high school students at Mid Pacific. A team of teachers at Mid-Pacific are serving as Teacher Research Fellows to facilitate school-wide implementation of the interventions. Stay tuned for results from these studies!

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Colegio Menor


What inspires children to act compassionately? Our research team explored this question in partnership with Universidad de San Francisco de Quito and Colegio Menor, a bilingual preK- 12 school in Ecuador. We interviewed preschoolers, 4th graders, 7th graders, and 10th graders about compassion. Using qualitative methods, we analyzed our interview data to explore how compassion arises within students at the school.

Results suggest that the students at this school go through four cyclic stages of compassion:

  • the recognition of another person's suffering,
  • the evaluation of whether the person deserves compassion,
  • the choice to take a compassionate action to relieve the person's suffering, and
  • the interpretation of the experience of being compassionate.

With this understanding, educators can support students to move through each stage  – teaching them to recognize suffering, evaluate situations empathetically, choose actions that help relieve suffering, and reflect on their experiences. As students move through the stages of compassion, it leads to positive feelings that sustain an unfolding of continued compassion. As one young student at the school perceptively explains, “Everyone deserves love or compassion. It’s helping you, it’s helping the one who needs the care, and you feel good.”


  1. Jones, S., Weissbourd, R., Kahn, J., Ross Anderson, T., Bouffard, S. with Byun, S. (2013). Building Empathy in Schools: A Review of Current Research-Based Programs and Recommendations for Educators. Prepared for the Ashoka Empathy Initiative. Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

  2. Jones et al., 2013.