The use of a serious game to enhance psychology students' empathy and reduce prejudice towards people with disabilities
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Although much has been done in South African legislations to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, the implementation of these rights is not yet experienced in the daily lives of people with disabilities. Disability refers to any restriction or impairment to perform an activity in a manner considered normal for society. The available definitions of disability aim to explain disability in its various forms, but it is crucial to recognise that disability represents a variety of conditions and a heterogeneous population. Failing to understand this diversity leads to stereotypical views and negative attitudes, which contribute to the marginalisation of persons with disabilities. Research shows a relationship between the development of secondary psychological problems among persons with disabilities, indicating their need for psychological services. Values such as acceptance and empathy play an important role in the therapeutic work with persons living with disabilities. However, research indicates that the empathy of therapists can deteriorate as work experience increases. It is also important for therapists to ensure that negative attitudes and prejudices found in society do not affect their work with regard to persons with disabilities. Therefore, it is important in the training of psychologists to determine how empathy can be enhanced and prejudice reduced to enable proper service to persons with disabilities. Currently students function in a learning environment dominated by technology and technologically based training techniques such as serious gaming. An advantage of serious games is the opportunity it creates for students to experience situations that might be difficult to achieve in reality. “The World of Empa” is a serious game focused on the care of persons with disabilities. Therefore, the aim of the study was to investigate how the serious game could be used to enhance psychology students’ empathy, and reduce prejudice towards persons with disabilities. As a randomised control trial with pre-test and multiple post-test designs, the study included an experimental group and two control groups. Non-probability sampling was used and 83 psychology students voluntarily participated. Data was collected using validated measuring instruments and was analysed using the “Statistical Package for the Social Sciences” (SPSS, standard version 22.0.1). Results showed participants having average levels of empathy, with the tendency of higher empathy among females, and strong levels of prejudice. The serious game showed no significant long-term effects, but slight short-term effects in the lowering of prejudice and enhancing participants’ abilities to transpose themselves imaginatively into the experiences of others. These findings echo views in literature of empathy as a dynamic component that can only be facilitated in some degree and that the amount of exposure through contact with a specific group might influence levels of prejudice. These findings can hold training implications but future research considerations are recommended.
- Health Sciences