IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


The development of empathy in adolescents

This joint research project will investigate whether empathy can be used to measure social and emotional skills in adolescents.

This joint-project will run from October 2023 to August 2024 and is funded by UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP).


Project leads

Team members


  • Dr Zachary Walker
  • Dr Bonamy Oliver
  • Dr Matt Somerville
  • Professor Andrew Tolmie


  • Dr Nandini Chatterjee
  • Dr Anya Chakraborty
  • Mayank Sharma

Empathy in adolescents

What is empathy?

Empathy involves sharing other people’s emotional experiences, thoughts, intentions and beliefs. For example, if you feel guilty when you realise someone might have misunderstood something you said, or if you feel happy for someone else, then you are manifesting empathy.

Empathy is associated with positive life outcomes, such as: 

  • Prosocial behaviours towards other people 
  • Better quality of social relationships 
  • Increased mental health and well-being. 

Empathy is essential to building social and emotional (SE) competencies. This means empathy helps us recognise and control our emotions, care for others, form positive relationships, and deal with challenging situations.  

Why is this important? Because empathy and SE competencies improve prosocial behaviour, cooperation, respect for diversity, and human and environmental dignity – which are all essential aspects of building peaceful and sustainable societies.

Why adolescents?

We are interested in studying empathy in adolescents for three main reasons: 

  1. Studies have shown that empathy in adolescence is useful to predict relationships in adulthood. So, it’s important to measure empathy to ensure appropriate later-life outcomes. 
  2. Adolescence is an important period for the development of empathy: it’s a transitional period characterised by many physical, psychological and social changes. It’s important to study how empathy develops in those crucial years, marked by changes. 
  3. There are contrasting pieces of evidence on how empathy manifests itself in adolescence: some studies show that adolescents use more prosocial behaviours, some show they use them less. So, the manifestation of empathy in adolescents needs to be better understood.
What is this study?

This project is a cooperation between UCL and UNESCO MGIEP. The idea is to study empathy in adolescents (12 to 16-year-olds) both in the UK and in India.  

The two specific objectives of the study are: 

  1. To assess how empathy manifests itself in adolescents, using a novel digital assessment measure. 
  2. To show that empathy can be used to measure social and emotional skills in adolescents.
What will happen during the study?

The entire assessment is online, on an interactive platform. There are two parts: 

  1. Parents complete a 15-minute survey 
  2. Adolescents complete a 90-minute task

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/6CcG9C80

Additional information

Please read the additional information about the study.  

Through this study, we aim to measure empathy via an online interactive platform. 

Information for schools

Why participate as a school?  

  • You will receive vouchers of up to £600 to use on educational materials. 
  • You will receive a report of the findings once the study is completed. 
  • As a thank you for your participation, we can organise a talk in your school from our lead researcher, Liz Halstead.  

 What will you have to do? 

  • Contact us. This can be done by filling in the contact form.
  • We will send you information sheets for parents and adolescents (see samples here), as well as the study links. 
  • Send out the study link containing the information sheet and consent form, to parents of students between the ages of 12 and 16 years in your school.
  • For the students who are given parental consent, arrange a time to complete the study. The study requires access to PC/tablets and a secure internet connection. It lasts 90 minutes and can be done at the time that suits you best. 
  • Receive your vouchers and enjoy new and high-quality educational materials.

 Can I nominate any student?

Not quite, guidelines on which students can and cannot be nominated:

  • Students must have normal or corrected to normal vision and hearing, and they must be fluent in English.  
  • Students mustn’t be enrolled in any ongoing therapy/intervention program (e.g., Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and/or Empathy Training), have an active prescription for psychotropic drugs, or have any parent-reported clinical diagnosis of cognitive, social, or emotional disorder (including autism, ADHD, learning difficulties, conduct disorder, severe depression and others). 

Who should I contact? 

If you have any questions, or would like to participate in the study, please submit an enquiry form.

Information for parents

What will you have to do? 

  • Your school will contact us and will receive relevant documents.
  • Your school will send you a link to the study. 
  • Click on the link and take part in the study. You will read the information sheet about the study. Then, if you consent to taking part, the survey will take 15 minutes to be completed. After that, you will be asked if you consent to your child also taking part in the study.  

What do I have to do in the study? 

The survey is online, can be filled in on any device, and should take around 15 minutes to complete. You will answer questions about your teenager.  

Who should I contact? 

If you have any further questions, please submit an enquiry form.

Information for adolescents

What will you have to do? 

  • Your school will contact us and will receive relevant documents.
  • Your parents will consent to you taking part in the study. 
  • Your school will inform you when and how you will be able to participate in the study. It will be online, on a PC or tablet, during school hours. It should take around 90 minutes to complete. 

What do I have to do in the study? 

The study will take approximately 90 minutes. You will do the study at school, on a computer or tablet. You will answer some questions and perform tasks online.   

Who should I contact? 

If you have any further questions, please submit an enquiry form.