Training Young People To Be More Empathetic Could Reduce Violent Crimes
“More and more, we live in bubbles. Most of us are surrounded by people who look like us, vote like us, earn like us, spend money like us, have educations like us and worship like us. The result is an empathy deficit, and it’s at the root of many of our biggest problems,” an article in The New York Times reads.
In the context of combating racism within the police force in the U.S. and several other countries, past research has suggested that that practicing empathy — that is, the ability to look at things from another individual’s perspective and taking their emotions and motivations into account — can help reduce racism-driven violence.
Now, published in Psychology, Crime and Law, a new study suggests that empathy training in childhood and early adolescence itself can potentially become a low-cost approach to reduce crime, and other forms of anti-social behavior, in society.
While it is possible to learn to be more empathetic as adults, experts believe that childhood is when we primarily develop empathy, leading researchers to suggest that the best time to impart empathy training would be when an individual is still in their formative years.
In fact, the researchers recommend universal pre-natal training for parents to help them foster empathy in their children right from birth through their parental style, and by creating a supportive family environment. In early middle school, the researchers believe universal social and emotional learning programs could be helpful. Beyond this, from about mid-childhood, or early-adolescence into adulthood, specific offender-targeted programs would be the go-to, according to them.
“Deficient empathy is a risk to all members of the community and can occur when children have inadequate or absent role models. If deficient empathy can be identified and addressed from infancy, we strongly believe that fewer incidents of harm and wrongdoing will occur in society,” Neema Trivedi-Bateman, senior lecturer in criminology at the Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K., who co-authored the study, said in a statement.
Related on The Swaddle:
“Empathy is crucial for supporting law-abiding behaviors and decisions, and traditional sources of empathy development, such as parents and teachers, are vital for the development of lawful behavior in children,” she added.
In fact, the empathy levels of violent offenders are reportedly 15% lower than less severe offenders and non-offenders. Moreover, higher empathy is also linked to lower levels of crimes committed by juveniles, which is yet another reason to start empathy training early especially in India, which records a high incidence of crimes committed by juveniles.
Experts believe it’s because lower levels of empathy can be linked to lower levels of shame and of guilt — “all of which play a primary role in moral decision-making when making behavioral choices.”
A 2017 report by the National Crime Records Bureau had found that “educated” juveniles committed crimes more than their “illiterate” counterparts, suggesting that embedding empathy training into their education may lead to better outcomes.
In the past, studies have found that empathy also allows people to have better relationships — not just in their personal lives by becoming better family members and friends, but also professionally, by being better bosses and co-workers.
All around, starting empathy training early seems like an economical and effective way to reduce violent crimes in society.