Honors Program

Fine and Performing Arts Honors

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Rosemary Geiken

Thesis Professor Department

Human Development and Learning

Thesis Reader(s)

Phillis Gloeckler, Scott Koterbay


Empathy, defined as the capacity to observe the feelings of another person and to respond with care and concern for that other person, is a very important quality of successful people (Cotton, 2000). However, there is very little research on the development of empathy in children, with a definite gap in research on the development of empathy in children from 24 to 48 months of age. The characteristic of empathy can be very difficult for young children to portray because of their tendency to be egocentric and their difficulty in recognizing the feelings of others. This study attempts to close the research gap. It is based on prior research indicating that movement in synchrony with music could encourage children, 24 to 36 months, to demonstrate empathetic behavior. The study included seven participants between the ages of 24-36 months. Field notes, as well as videotapes, captured the data. Before the study took place, teachers rated each child’s level of empathy in the classroom. In the first part of the study the children were bounced to the beat of the music and divided into two groups. In the synchronous group the principal investigator would stand in front of the child and bounce synchronously with the child. In the Asynchronous group the principal investigator would bounce asynchronously to the child in random unpredictable beats. The principal investigator would then complete a task of drawing a picture with each child. The principal investigator would then drop the crayon and act as if she were unable to reach it to see if the child would take action to help retrieve the crayon. The second part of the study involved a group activity, led by the principal investigator, in which children moved synchronously to music, using child safe rhythm sticks. The principal investigator would then drop her stick and act as if she was unable to reach it. In both parts of the study children were observed to see if they demonstrated any type of empathetic behavior towards the other children participating or towards the researcher. Results indicate that children who demonstrated empathetic or helping behaviors were originally part of the synchronous group. These results suggest that moving synchronously to music can encourage children to demonstrate empathetic behavior as well as create a connection between the participants. With this knowledge teachers will be able to create more effective classrooms where development of empathy is fostered.

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


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