Can art teach us to be more empathetic?

Students are expected to record information obtained through participant observation, visual creations/receptions (photos/videos), knowledge maps, or storyboard development

In the social science tradition, the research techniques that allow for the development of empathy have been those of the ethnographic method, which have been exported to other disciplines: participant observation and in-depth interview.

Hence, effective and purposeful learning methodologies within the framework of teaching focused research are expressed at the intersection between listening training and research. The educational goal will be to learn to listen and observe attentively. To do this, we combine techniques such as in-depth interviews, narration, the biographical method with stories or life stories, or an application Storytelling.

The goal of these practices is for students to be able to record information obtained through participant observation, visual creation/receptions (images/videos), cognitive maps, or the development of story board.

Since this general scheme is valid for different areas of knowledge, it can be applied, and in fact applied, in the specific training of health professionals. Empathy can be considered a basic general competence for all professionals who work to help others realize basic rights: health, education, and justice.

Sympathy department?

In this sense, we present a proposal that is frequently used in other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, in undergraduate training for health science students, but can be used in any field.

Some debates are still ongoing about whether or not empathy can be taught. Several recent studies suggest that although some people are more empathetic than others, it is actually a skill that can and should be enhanced in university classrooms. In fact, the University of Oxford in the UK has a department, which is part of the Faculty of Philosophy, dedicated to research and teaching empathy for health workers.

The point of appreciating and analyzing the details of artwork is to provide space and time to explore emotions and foster empathy (Sebastian Bani)
The point of appreciating and analyzing the details of artwork is to provide space and time to explore emotions and foster empathy (Sebastian Bani)

Comfortable in uncertainty

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Supporting health education in museumsMuseum-based health educationSuggests strategies for enhancing empathy by stimulating critical thinking, slow observation, attentive listening, respecting diverse opinions and different viewpoints, and inviting the student to feel more comfortable with uncertainty and accept that there are some situations for which there may not be a definitive answer.

The ideal place for these activities are galleries and museums. They take the student from his usual classroom and hospital environment, encouraging him to show other sides of himself. In this field, neither hierarchies nor prior knowledge are the requirements for activity. It is about providing a safe and respectful space where people can express themselves freely and explore their feelings, biases and prejudices.

What are good practices

We can list several good practices, although we focus on two to verify their usefulness in teaching practice; Not only in the social sciences but also in the health sciences. Whether in the slow observation of the paintings or on the personal response tour, the artwork functions as a ‘third object’.

In slow observation of the paintings, students are invited to look at the details of a work of art, to understand them in relation to the author’s life and work, and how they might relate to the daily activities they would carry out as professionals.

In the Personal Response Tour, they are invited to find a work of art that answers specific questions that are chosen, depending on the purpose of the activity, from “something that looks nice to me”, “something that angers me”, something that is difficult for me to accept”, “something that seems sad to me” Once the work is chosen, they present it to the group, emphasizing their reasons for choosing it.

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The goal of learning is not the discussion per se, nor is it about whether there are right or wrong answers; This practice seeks to provide space and time to explore feelings and foster empathy.

* Ana Martinez Perez is Associate Professor of Sociology at Rey Juan Carlos University. Natalia Mesa Friedel is a Ph.D. student, Rey Juan Carlos University.

Originally Posted in Conversation.

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