Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Strategic Leadership Studies


Benjamin S. Selznick

Karen A. Ford

David Stringham


Empathy is the ability feel into, or put oneself in the place of another. It is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes. Studies have shown that this ability is decreasing among today’s college students and on the rise as a desired trait for today’s leaders. This dilemma provides an interesting opportunity to explore how institutions of higher education can help develop the leaders of tomorrow by increasing empathy among students. Specifically, this research explores theatre as an intervention for empathy development among college students.

Theatre, as a program of study, is unique within the college experience in that students have a greater opportunity to develop mature interpersonal relationships and authentic leadership via the collaborative, interpersonal, and often self-reflective nature of the coursework. Theatre students regularly engage with other students, faculty, and audience members and use self-reflection in the exploration, creation, and presentation of their art. This study uses the development of mature interpersonal relationships and authentic leadership as a theoretical framework to show how confidence, affective identity, communal identity, and theatre as a collaborative art form can help develop empathy among college students. Structural equation modeling is employed to examine an empathy development path model, with theatre engagement as a mediating variable.

Results indicated that the hypothesized model is a plausible representation of theory and, for the given sample, empathy was positively associated with a nearly one-third standard deviation for every standard deviation increase in theatre engagement. The implications of this research and future research opportunities presented are many and varied. Researchers, parents, students, educators in theatre and business programs, business leaders, and administrators in institutions of higher education can all benefit from the results and any future studies stemming from it.



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