The Socio-emotional Effects of a Computer-simulated Animal on Children’s Empathy and Humane Attitudes

This study investigated the potential of using a computer-simulated animal in a handheld virtual pet videogame to improve children’s empathy and humane attitudes toward animals. It resulted in a PhD dissertation for Dr. Lily Tsai.

Principal Investigator: Dr. David Kaufman
Co-Investigator: Dr. Lily Tsai

The participants comprised 51 children aged 9 to 11 in grades 4-5 in Surrey school district. The results showed that after playing Nintendogs for three weeks, the participants of both sexes scored higher (on average) on empathy and had higher levels of humane attitudes compared to the pretest before they played.

Also, a relationship was found between the amount of timed played and scores on empathy and attitudes. An unexpected finding was that many children tended to form emotional bonds with their virtual pets, considering them as real animals.

Where to Learn More

  • Tsai, Y-F. L., & Kaufman, D. (2010).  The socio-emotional effects of a computer-simulated animal on children’s empathy and humane attitudes. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 41(1), 103-123.
  • Tsai, Y., & Kaufman, D. (2010). Handheld games: Can virtual pets make a difference?  In D. Kaufman, & L. Sauvé (Eds.), Educational gameplay and simulation environments: Case studies and lessons (pp.302-311). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.