Developing altruism and empathy in Ecuadorian college students: impact of a mandatory service-learning course
Ramia, Paola Nascira
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The main purpose of the study was to determine if altruism and empathy could be developed in Ecuadorian college students. Gender differences were expected in initial altruism and empathy measures. A predictive relationship between different dimensions of empathy (fantasy, perspective taking, empathic concern, personal distress) and altruism was also expected. The intervention took the form of a mandatory service learning course, which included conferences and a service internship with continuous and shared reflection via computer mediated discussion groups. A mixed methodology design first used an experimental component in which participants were randomly assigned to experimental (with discussion groups) and control (without discussion groups) conditions, and a qualitative component in which semi-structured interviews were done with control and treatment participants approximately a year after the intervention. Quantitative results revealed a positive impact of the intervention in altruism and empathic concern, as well as a positive qualitative impact in treatment participants' critical thinking about their country's reality. Additionally, qualitative data showed a difference in thinking about their service experience between experimental and control group participants. Gender differences in altruism and empathy were not found in contrast with previous studies. The combination of empathy factors as measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1983) predicted scores in altruism as measured by the Self-Report Altruism Scale (Rushton, Chrisjohn & Fekken, 1981). It was concluded that the intervention had a modest effect on participants' empathy and a strong positive effect on participants' altruism. Instruments used in this study were differentially appropriate for the sample. The SRA appears to be more valid and reliable than the original and complete IRI. The IRI instrument appeared to have had some components (Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking) that were more related to the constructs under study and other components that were unrelated to this study. Some extraneous variables were not taken into account in data collection and analysis, and may have influenced the results, such as: Cultural knowledge about the importance of research, different service experiences due to different qualities of placements, and dispositional characteristics of participants.
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