Developing Digital Empathy: A Holistic Approach to Media Literacy Research Methods

Developing Digital Empathy: A Holistic Approach to Media Literacy Research Methods

Yonty Friesem
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9667-9.ch007
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In the Digital Age, when technology offers many solutions and distractions at the same time, we should use media literacy research to address these advantages and challenges through a holistic approach. This chapter introduces digital empathy as a holistic framework combining empathic design and empathic listening to bridge the traditional protectionist and empowerment approaches in media literacy research. Digital Empathy is a mixed methods approach that has been developed through a longitudinal study. It is an inclusive model that addresses the participants and the researcher's cognitive, emotional, and social skills through empathic design and empathic listening. Using a longitudinal case study of a month-long media literacy summer class with underprivileged high school students, the chapter describes digital empathy, not only as a pedagogical approach, but also as a holistic research method that will advance media literacy scholarship.
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Digital and Media literacy research explores human ability to access information, analyze media messages, create media, reflect upon her/his use and act responsibly (Hobbs, 2010). There are two main approaches to media literacy research: protectionism and empowerment (Buckingham, 1998). This chapter calls for using an empathic methodology to advance media literacy research making it more valid and to address ethical issues. The described longitudinal case study of a summer program helped me develop the framework of digital empathy as a research methodology. Digital empathy is the result of my efforts to design a research framework to address cognitive, emotional, and social skills while using digital media.

Digital empathy explores the ability to: analyze and evaluate another’s internal state (empathy accuracy); have a sense of identity and agency (self-empathy); recognize, understand, and predict other’s thoughts and emotions (cognitive empathy); feel what others feel (affective empathy); role play (imaginative empathy); and be companionate to others (empathic concern), via digital media (see Table 1, Friesem, 2015). My goal in this chapter is to: a) introduce the traditional protectionist and empowerment approaches to media literacy research; b) offer a new framework for media literacy research methods using digital empathy; c) showcase the use of digital empathy as a media literacy research method using one longitudinal case study.

Table 1.
Digital empathy
          Empathy          Definition          Digital Media Literacy
Digital Empathy“The cognitive and emotional ability to be reflective and socially responsible while strategically using digital media” (Friesem, 2015)Access, analyze, create, reflect, act (Hobbs, 2010)
Empathic Accuracy“‘Reading’ other people’s thoughts and feeling” (Ickes, 1997, p. 2)Analyze
Self-Empathy“A process in which the individual adopts an attitudinal stance of nonjudgment and openness toward the self” (Neff, 2003, p. 90)Reflect
Cognitive & Emotional Empathy“Knowing another person’s internal state, including his or her thoughts” and “feelings and coming to feel as another person feels” (Batson, 2009, p. 4-5)Access, analyze, act
Imaginative Empathy“The tendency to imaginatively transpose oneself into fictional situations” (Davis, 1996, P.57).Analyze, create
Empathic Concern“The underpinnings of compassion and connection in social relations” (Zahn-Waxler, Robinson & Emde, 1992, p. 1083)Create, act

Note: Table is adapted from Friesem, Y. (2015). Digital Empathy. Retrieved from

Key Terms in this Chapter

Tent of Media Literacy: Overview of the media literacy field according to the US definition, two approaches, and practices.

Empathic Listening: Active process of hearing and providing feedback in order to validate the other’s perspective. In education as well as research this four-stage practice is important to have better communication and establish trust.

Digital Empathy: Holistic approach to teach and research media literacy in the Digital Age. It combines cognitive, emotional, social, and moral aspects of digital and media literacy.

Empathy: Ability and process of an individual communicating with others to understand and acknowledge their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Holistically it combines the cognitive, emotional, and social parts of the mind as we interactive with others.

Empowerment Approach to Media Literacy: Approach that looks at media as a tool to empower individual and/or communities through expressive composition of texts.

Empathic Design: Five-stage process that looks at the participants and community experience to explore better ways to designing produces and processes. The key components are perspective taking and role-playing to better understand other’s point of views that leads toward an inclusive approach.

Protectionist Approach to Media Literacy: Approach that looks at the need to be critical media consumers in order to take control of the media messages that we are surrounded by.

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