Date of Award

7-17-2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Education

School

School of Education

First Advisor

Mandie Shean

Second Advisor

Christina Gray

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to understand which elements of the drama processes are most conducive to increasing empathy in adolescents. Empathy can have a significant impact on situational and dispositional pro-social behaviour in adolescents. It is positively related to moral development, healthy relationships and problem-solving skills; and negatively related to bullying behaviour, aggression, and victimisation. The practice of Creative Drama, in particular the work of Dorothy Heathcote and Bruce Burton, has informed drama programs that foster empathy in participants. This process, combined with the Actor Training system of Constantin Stanislavski, and the Forum Theatre model developed by Augusto Boal, was tested for its efficacy in increasing empathy in adolescents.

This study took the form of a ten-week drama-based program intervention (The Empathy Program) conducted at one secondary school in the Perth metropolitan area with a group of Year 10 students. A constructivist, mixed methods approach was utilised to frame the study. Data was collected through structured self-response surveys for students in both experimental and control groups, as well as semi-structured written reflections completed by students in the experimental group after each week of the intervention. Findings of this research showed a significant increase in participant empathy, which highlights the potential for drama to improve student empathy. Results also detailed six key elements that were effective in the development of empathy amongst participants, including explicit instruction and the importance of imagination and role-play. This research reflects the important role that drama can have in the social and emotional development of young people and recommends strategies for inclusion in current drama pedagogical practices.

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