Random App of Kindness
Random Act of kindness App
Match the Emotion
This game involves teaching people to better identify emotions in others’ faces, which is linked to empathy. People who score high on emotion recognition tasks have higher self-reported empathy and more helping behaviors. It is important to recognize what others are feeling in order to respond appropriately to their needs. This game asks players to match the eyes, nose area, and mouth area to the right emotional word, teaching players to pay attention to different areas of the face when trying to identify emotion.
Water the Venus Fly Trap
Executive function involves the regulation, control, and management of cognitive processes, including planning, intentional focus, response inhibition, and task switching. Research finds that several aspects of executive function are associated with increased empathy and helping behaviors. Response inhibition, which is one facet of executive function, is the ability to inhibit dominant responses accurately and quickly. Research finds that people who can inhibit a dominant response have higher empathic capacities. In this game, the goal is for players to be able to water the plant as quickly as possible, but immediately stop doing it when they are cued.
Stop the Baby from Crying
This game is based on research related to nurturance which suggests that a powerful driver of empathy is the desire to protect others who are young, cute, or vulnerable. It is important for young people to learn to accurately read the signals of crying babies, especially when they have very little exposure to babies in their real lives. In this game, we used real baby cries of hunger or pain (from a vaccination), along with matching facial expressions, to teach young people that baby cries are meaningful ways of communicating their needs.
Help the Old Woman across the Street
Role-taking or perspective-taking are cognitive forms of empathy that involve trying to vividly imagine other people’s situations, feelings, and points of view. Often the targets of such perspective-taking are vulnerable or stigmatized in some way. Through inducing the point of view (i.e. visual perspective taking) of the old woman, players can better imagine the difficulty of performing everyday tasks such as crossing the street with limited mobility.
This game is based on research on the prosocial benefits associated with moving in synchrony with others. Music is a powerful force in connecting us with others. Research finds that coordinated or synchronous actions between people can help to enhance rapport, build trust, and increase compassion, cooperation, and helping behavior. In this game, players are invited to “dance” in sync with the character by pressing the colored notes at the right time.
Pet the Dog
Like the baby game, this game is also based on research finding that young, cute, and vulnerable others help to inspire empathy. Cute animals can help facilitate empathic responses in a similar way as babies or young children. For example, research finds that children with pets have more empathy than those who don’t have pets, and that positive interactions with animals can help to increase empathy. In this game, players are asked to gently stroke Harriette the dog and clean her fur. If successful, she will transform from sad to happy.
This game is based on research on the empathetic benefits of motor mimicry. Empathy is related to mirror neuron activation in the brain. Many studies point to the important role of imitation (either imitating others’ actions or being imitated) in empathy and prosocial tendencies. Imitation of facial expressions is so rudimentary to humans that it is seen in newborn babies. Research has found that people imitate emotions even when they are exposed to pictures of emotional facial expressions at levels below their conscious awareness. The goal of this game is to trace the characters’ facial expressions, and a large word at the top of the screen will show the corresponding emotion word. Our hope is that the motion of tracing the emotion along with seeing the emotion spelled out will elicit that response in the player.
This is based on conflict resolution research that finds that skills related to anger management and impulse control can increase empathy and decrease aggression. Conflict resolution skills involve finding ways to maintain positive social relationships even in the midst of disagreement or strong negative emotions. There are many different successful conflict resolution programs, and in a recent meta-analysis, we found that they are effective at increasing empathy among children and adolescents. In this game, players are faced with an angry man, and the strategy is to just walk away calmly, rather than escalate the conflict.
Balloons (Bonus Game)
Self-affirmation is a process of reflecting on one’s important values. For example, these values may include being kind, caring, forgiving, and giving. In self-affirmation studies, participants are asked to choose their top values, and the studies typically find a reduction in anxiety and defensiveness, which has downstream positive consequences such as lower aggression and more helping behavior. In this game, players are asked to choose between being something more prosocial or being something more focused on the self.
Random App of Kindness: Evaluating the Potential of a Smartphone Intervention to Impact Adolescents’ Empathy, Prosocial Behavior, and Aggression
Videogames, including smartphone app games, can be effective teachers. Meta-analytic reviews find that prosocial media can increase empathy and prosocial behavior. We developed a prosocial smartphone app game, Random App of Kindness (RAKi), using theoretically informed empathy-building practices, in the hopes of increasing empathy and prosocial behavior, and decreasing aggressive behaviors. RAKi includes nine minigames that take only seconds to play (e.g., recognizing emotions, caring for a crying baby, petting a sad dog). We randomly assigned 106 preteens and teens aged 10–17 (and their parents) to play RAKi or a control app for 2 months. We assessed baseline and postintervention scores on empathy, prosocial behavior, and aggression-related outcomes in the laboratory. Participants who played RAKi (compared to a control app) felt more compassion for someone in need, behaved in empathic ways while interacting with a stranger, were less likely to endorse physical aggression, and behaved less aggressively toward a peer (if they started with lower trait empathy). However, RAKi did not significantly influence participants’ trait empathy levels. Media can be used for good or ill. RAKi appears to accomplish a number of positive outcomes after only 2 months of gameplay.