Can Empathy Be Taught? We Tried!

student exercise empathy senior citizen

Teams race to complete everyday tasks with vision, mobility hampered

student empathy exercise

Student teams race to do everyday tasks with foggy glasses and clumsy gloves

Ever had trouble opening a pickle jar? We tried to give undergraduate students an understanding of this problem through the eyes and hands of senior citizens! Last spring a marketing class session was devoted to a unique exercise – a relay-type race called the “Pickle Olympics” where each student donned a tie-dye jacket, translucent glasses, and clumsy gloves then attempted one of 30 challenges. Challenges included finding the proper medication on a table full of pill bottles, throwing a frisbee to a ‘grandchild’ mannequin, opening a band-aid and applying it properly, dispensing a precise amount of water using a measuring cup, … and the finale, of course, required them to open a pickle jar with their large gloves already smeared with hand lotion!

The learning objective of the Pickle Olympics was to develop a sense of empathy among the students and help them discover new product ideas and innovations for the senior market not considered before. A student’s experience with everyday activities is very different from an elderly person’s, mainly due to differences in physical strength, vision, and mobility. The students came away from this experience with a fresh perspective – and a long list of new product ideas designed to assist senior consumers with everyday hassles!

Have you tried something like this with students? We’d like to hear about it!


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