A Review of Post-Graduate Theses and Doctoral Dissertations Concerning Empathy in Early Childhood Education

Üzüm, Sabiha
Tantekin Erden, Feyza
Empathy was considered as a form of knowledge distinct from one's knowledge of the physical world gained through senses or self-knowledge gained through introspection (Schlicht, 2023), and that specifically focuses on understanding and experiencing the emotions of others as if they were their own (Clark,1980). Empathy develops as a natural part of human interaction in early childhood and becomes more refined as children grow older. As children get older, they begin to understand how others feel inside and become more open to their needs. This progress leads to empathetic reactions that are focused on understanding and responding to others' situations, feelings, and requirements (Eisenberg et al., 2015).Empathy is thought to increase during early childhood due to the development of children's social skills during this period (Moreno et al., 2008). In this context, it was stated that the ability to perceive others' emotional states accurately is a significant social skill component (Hoffman, 1982). Therein, Rogers (1975) mentioned that empathy is a skill that can be cultivated through appropriate education, which makes early childhood education a critical phase for bringing empathy to young children. In that, it is crucial to enhance the quality of education, develop developmentally appropriate practices, implement effective parent engagement strategies, and improve early childhood teacher education. Therefore, research on empathy in the field of early childhood education will indirectly but comprehensively support and contribute to all these processes.Thus, reviewing and portraying the graduate theses, which are significant contributors to research regarding empathy in the field of early childhood education, is essential to identify trends and patterns of current graduate works and address the research gaps for further studies. Nevertheless, to the authors' knowledge, a review study has yet to be conducted on graduate theses regarding empathy in the field of early childhood education. Therefore, the present study aimed to contribute to the current literature on this aspect. Within this purpose, the following research questions were formed:RQ1:What are the methodological trends of the graduate theses on empathy in the field of early childhood education conducted between 2014 and 2024?RQ2:What are the theoretical patterns of the graduate theses on empathy in the field of early childhood education conducted between 2014 and 2024?Methodology:The present study was carried out using systematic review, a qualitative method involving comprehensive searches of published and unpublished studies by documenting their methodologies and results (Bryman, 2012). The data was collected using criterion-sampling approach by identifying the graduate theses meet the predetermined criteria (Patton, 2015). Therein, the data collection process of the study consisted of two primary phases: the process of searching for theses and the subsequent selection process. In the first phase, the theses were searched online by using the register base of YÖK for graduate theses called “National Thesis Center.” The variations of the keywords as “empathy”, “early childhood,” preschool,” and “young children” were looked for. In addition, the date of publication was limited from 2014 to 2024. As a result of the search, 349 graduate theses were found by considering their title.In the next phase, the graduate theses found were selected by the following criteria:·being written in the field of early childhood education·being a thesis written to graduate from a graduate program of early childhood education in Türkiye·being conducted with children between ages zero to eight, or their parents, or in-service/pre-service teachers in the field of early childhood education·being published in English or in Turkish to be understandable for the authorsConsequently, 14 graduate theses were included in the present study. The selected these were thoroughly examined, and deliberated regarding their aims, methodologies, and findings.Findings:In the context of the present review study, when the graduate theses on empathy in early childhood education in the last ten years in Türkiye were examined, it was observed that nine of the theses were master's theses and five were doctoral dissertations. It is noted that there were relatively fewer doctoral dissertations, which involve more comprehensive and in-depth study processes, and increasing their number would be valuable in addressing the gaps in the field.Within the scope of the present review, it was determined that out of the fourteen graduate theses examined, twelve employed quantitative and two employed mixed-methods methodologies. The absence of qualitative methodologies in the theses on empathy was noteworthy. However, given the relation-based and circumstance-focused nature of empathy, focusing on the reasons and processes behind the generalizable findings identified quantitatively would be crucial, as well as highlighting the importance of qualitative methodology on the subject. Thus, conducting high-quality qualitative research in the relevant field could contribute significantly.Additionally, it was observed that in ten of the graduate theses on empathy, the participants were children. At the same time, parents were involved in four studies, in-service teachers in five studies, and pre-service teachers in three studies. The studies predominantly had children as participants. However, increasing the number of studies focusing on teachers and families as crucial stakeholders in instilling empathy skills during early childhood would contribute significantly to the field. Moreover, pre-service teachers as a part of the teacher education level, where future teachers are trained, as participants in related studies would also make an essential contribution to the field.Finally, it was noted that most of the studies focused on children's emotional development, social skills, in-family relationships, in-class relationships, and classroom management. In other words, the studies mostly focused on the affective domain of empathy. Although empathy is considered an affective domain-based concept, it also includes a cognitive domain (Feshbach, 1978). However, the studies did not extensively address the cognitive domain of empathy. In that, examining the cognitive domain of empathy in early childhood education would likely shed light on future studies.References:Bryman, A. (2012).Social research methods. Oxford University Press.Clark, K. B. (1980). Empathy: A neglected topic in psychological research.American Psychologist, 35(2), 187–190.Eisenberg, N., Eggum-Wilkens, N. D., & Spinrad, T. L. (2015). The development of prosocial behavior. In D. A. Schroeder & W. G. Graziano (Eds.),The Oxford handbook of prosocial behavior. Oxford University Press.Feshbach, N. D. (1978). Studies of empathic behavior in children.Progress in Experimental Personality Research, 8, 1-47.Hoffman, M. L. (1982). Development of prosocial motivation: Empathy and guilt. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.),The development of prosocial behavior. Academic Press.Lipps, T. (2013). Leitfaden der Psychologie. In F. Fabbianelli (Eds.),Lipps, schriften zur psychologie und erkenntnistheorie. Ergon.Moreno, A. J., Klute, M. M. & Robinson, J. L. (2008), Relational and individual resources as predictors of empathy in early childhood.Social Development,17, 613-637.Patton, M. Q. (2015).Qualitative research & evaluation methods. SAGE.Rogers, C. R. (1975). Empathic: An unappreciated way of being.The Counseling Psychologist, 5(2), 2-10.Schlicht, T. (2023). Empathy theories. In T. Schlicht(Eds.),Philosophy of social cognition.Palgrave Macmillan.
International Eurasian Educational Research Congress
Citation Formats
S. Üzüm and F. Tantekin Erden, “A Review of Post-Graduate Theses and Doctoral Dissertations Concerning Empathy in Early Childhood Education,” presented at the International Eurasian Educational Research Congress, Kocaeli, Türkiye, 2024, Accessed: 00, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://hdl.handle.net/11511/109673.