It’s possible! Led by PhD candidate Tammi Kral, researchers at the University of Wisconsin sought to develop a video game that would teach empathy to adolescents. They conducted a study to investigate whether a video game could effectively improve children’s empathic accuracy, or their ability to correctly infer the thoughts and feelings of others. To accomplish this goal, the researchers created a game called Crystals of Kaydor, which was intended to teach the subjects how to recognize emotional cues. They tested the empathic accuracy of children who played the game by assessing their behavior during tasks requiring empathy and monitoring the activity of brain circuits underlying empathy by conducting fMRI scans before and after the subjects played the game for a period of two weeks.
While the researchers found no significant difference in behavioral assessments of empathic accuracy as a result of playing Crystals of Kaydor, the brain scans revealed a significant increase in activation of empathy-related neural circuits as well as strengthened connectivity between brain networks involved in empathy. These results suggest that video games can be useful in improving empathy-related brain function and neural connectivity. As an empathy training platform, video games could be extremely impactful because of their engaging nature and burgeoning popularity among adolescents. However, further research is necessary to determine whether these changes in our brains significantly impact our behavior.