How empathy can boost creativity in kids


Researchers from the University of Cambridge explored what happens when you combine social and emotional learning with more traditional academic work.

Bill Nicholl, lecturer in design and technology education, and Helen Demetriou, lecturer in psychology and education, have been collaborating on a new initiative called “Designing Our Tomorrow.” As part of it, they created and oversaw a study for which students at one inner-London school spent the year following a curriculum that integrated empathy into a design challenge.

The students were challenged to design an asthma-treatment “pack” for young children. The lesson plan included practical details on how asthma is treated and the tools required, as well as opportunities to better understand the emotional dimensions of living with asthma. The winning pack, which includes a monkey design and banana-scented materials, is in the works to be used by the United Kingdom’s National Health Services.

After the students completed the challenge, the researchers compared their outcomes to same-aged students at a different school who did not participate. Through a thorough quantitative and qualitative assessment process, they found that empathy boosts creativity, that teaching empathy in a specific context boosts empathy in other settings, and that learning empathy can deepen the students’ overall engagement with learning. It also helped close the gender gap in learning styles.


Emotional Intelligence is something that has been thought in school nowadays.

Social and emotional learning + traditional academic work:

  • Empathy boosts creativity;
  • empathy in a specific context boosts empathy in other settings;
  • engagement with learning;
  • Close gender gaps in learning styles.

What are these gender gaps?

In the research, boys made more gains in emotional empathy and girls in cognitive. (Stereotyped?)

Empathy is a form of creativity – it involves imagination- putting yourself in someone’s shoes requires it.

two types of empathy:

  • cognitive, or thinking about things from another’s perspective;
  • emotional/affective, feeling along with the other person.

“With creativity, you also have this cognitive side and emotional side, and if you are designing a product with someone else’s needs in mind, it is important to project yourself into the other’s world. The two really go hand in hand.”

“kids role-play and think about the other stakeholders involved with children’s asthma: How did Mom feel? What does Granny do when her grandchild has an attack? They had an understanding of the problem and this gave them insights, which helped them come up with many creative ideas.”

“Children should be learning in a more holistic way, as we are, after all, multidimensional beings”

Reading also enhances empathy.


Strauss, E. (2021, February 19). How empathy can boost creativity in kids. CNN. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from