Research Shows Value of Empathy to Prevent Conflict | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

March 11, 2021by Natalie Davis0

Summary of:

Smolyaninova, O.G., Posokhova, S.T., Izotova, M.Kh. (2020). The possibilities of empathy in preventing interpersonal conflicts in the educational environment of a higher education institution. Journal of Siberan Federal University: Humanities and Social Sciences, 13(2), 219-233. DOI: 10.17516/1997-1370-0553.

Background & Theory

This article explores how empathy plays a role in interpersonal conflicts, specifically as it relates to students in a university setting. The article touches on how empathy may be used to prevent or resolve conflicts, and its practical use in certain career fields.

Research Question

Smolyaninova, Posokhova, and Izotova, in “The possibilities of empathy in preventing interpersonal conflicts in the educational environment of a higher education institution” (2020), seek to address the following question:

    1. How might empathy affect or prevent interpersonal conflict from occurring?


The authors conducted their research with 174 participants, all of whom were college students in either a psychology, medicine, or technical science program. They ranged in age between 18-24 years old, and were roughly half female/half male overall. The participants were provided a questionnaire and answered questions related to conflict behavior strategy and empathic ability. Also included for the purpose of this study were interviews with participants, as well as observation of participants. The data then underwent statistical analyses.


The results showed that the students among the three different programs had some similarities, but also had distinct differences. For instance, the students in the three programs responded very similarly regarding their preference and ranking of conflict behavior strategies, but psychology students outweighed both medicine and technical science students regarding their overall empathic ability. It’s important to note that multiple areas related to empathic ability were evaluated, and there were some areas where all students shared similar results, such as their emotional empathy channel (i.e., the ability to sympathize), but most areas varied quite significantly.

What This Means

  • It is without argument that empathy can help prevent and resolve conflicts. However, we all have different capacities for this, and this study elaborates on the various experiences we have that might help shape this.
  • While many college educations include the humanities as part of general education, this article points out a need of this in fields such as engineering or medicine, as they can help develop stronger empathic ability for these future engineers and doctors – a quality that is still highly needed. This study suggests that the psychology students may show greater empathic ability due to partly their natural inclination, but also due to their major and field of study.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Empathy training can help prevent conflicts, as well as resolve them when clients can seek to understand the other party’s feelings. Incorporating empathy training can be a crucial asset for successful mediation.

For everyone: Some of us are naturally more empathetic than others, but it’s worth evaluating our own capability for this, and how we might improve it if we see to fall short. Overall, it leads to a more peaceful life.


Natalie Davis

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