EKU professor creates empathy app for teens

RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – A professor at Eastern Kentucky University hopes to take advantage of all the time people spend on their phones.

Dr. Matthew Winslow helped create the interactive app, “Random App of Kindness” (RAKi) to teach empathy and compassion to kids.

“This is really catching them at an important age for the development of empathy,” said Dr. Winslow. “Plus they like to play apps so let’s give them something we already know they like to do.”

Dr. Winslow, a psychology professor at EKU, teamed up with Sara Konrath at Indiana University, who led the team, Brad Bushman from Ohio State University and Rich Tolman from University of Michigan. They spent about three years researching and designing the app.

Konrath found that empathy in young adults has been declining by 40 percent since 1979. With many people believing smartphone use impairs empathy, she and her team decided to try to create an app that could instead make people more compassionate.

RAKi includes a series of nine mini-games that each aim to strengthen a specific, basic building blocks of empathy and compassion.

Preliminary results suggest that children and teens ages 10-17 who played RAKi for two months had more compassionate emotional responses to another teen in distress (compared to those who played the control game). In addition, the RAKi app led to more helping behavior, and a reduction in beliefs that it was okay to use aggression as a way to solve problems. The researchers hope to publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal in the future.

RAKi is available free of charge in the iTunes App Store and Google Play Android Market.

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