How do you teach your kids empathy? According to a recent study, one good way to do this is to encourage your children to embrace music. Apparently, kids who spend a year doing group musical activities show a more advanced level of empathy compared to their non-musical peers.

For the study, researchers recruited 52 children and divided them into three groups. The first group met once a week to participate in musical games, the second group focused more on words and drama, and the third group didn’t do anything at all. Before the beginning of the study, the kids were measured for their level of emotional empathy. One year later, the same tests were administered. Results revealed that the kids who were part of the music group had a significant increase in emotional empathy compared to the kids from the two other groups.

Exactly how does music improve emotional empathy? Researchers believe that kids who went through the musical exercises experienced what they call "shared intentionality," where the participants felt like they have a common experience even though they aren't necessarily doing or feeling the same things. Activities like composing music together following a theme, or creating music that reflects another’s emotions are reportedly keys to shared intentionality.

"We feel that the program of musical activities we’ve developed could serve as a platform for a new approach to music education--one that helps advance not just musical skill but also social abilities and, in particular, the emotional understanding of others," says lead author Tal-Chen Rabinowitch from the Centre for Music and Science at the University of Cambridge.

If you want your kids to develop empathy early on or if you want them to become more understanding of emotions in general, it’s not such a bad idea to enroll them in musical programs. Not only will this help foster confidence, it will also help them make more friends.

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(Photo by courosa via Flickr Creative Commons)

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