Original Research

The effect of a serious game on empathy and prejudice of psychology students towards persons with disabilities

Linda Olivier, Paula Sterkenburg, Esmé van Rensburg
African Journal of Disability | Vol 8 | a328 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v8i0.328 | © 2019 Linda Olivier, Paula Sterkenburg, Esmé van Rensburg | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 October 2016 | Published: 28 March 2019

About the author(s)

Linda Olivier, School of Psychosocial Behavioural Sciences: Psychology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Paula Sterkenburg, Department of Clinical Child and Family Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and, Amsterdam Public Health research institute (APH), Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and, Bartiméus, Doorn, the Netherlands
Esmé van Rensburg, School of Psychosocial Behavioural Sciences: Psychology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Background: Much has been done regarding the promotion of equality in rights in terms of legislation, but persons with disabilities remain marginalised in society. Negative attitudes and prejudice contribute towards numerous challenges for persons with disabilities.

Objectives: This study investigated the level of empathy and prejudice of students towards persons with disabilities, and the effect of the use of a serious game to enhance empathy and reduce prejudice.

Method: A randomised controlled experiment with pre-test, post-test and follow-up test was used. Availability sample (N = 83) of psychology university students (22% males; 78% females) was divided into an experimental group that played the serious game The World of Empa and two control groups. The first control group received texts on case studies and information on reacting in a sensitive and responsive way, and the second control group received no intervention.

Results: Participants have average levels of empathy (score: 32 to 52) and strong prejudice (score: 0.08 to −0.87) towards persons with disabilities. The intervention results in a slight short-term effect for prejudice and sub-scale measurements of empathy. A slight improvement was noted in participants’ ability to transpose themselves imaginatively into the experience of disabled characters.

Conclusion: The findings contribute to the understanding of empathy as a dynamic component that can be positively influenced by, for example, a serious game. These results have teaching implications on the facilitation of empathy. The short-term effect on empathy and prejudice towards persons with disabilities may contribute to bridge the inequality experienced by persons with disabilities.


empathy; prejudice; serious games; persons with disabilities; psychology students


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Crossref Citations

1. Designing a Virtual Reality Game for Promoting Empathy Toward Patients With Chronic Pain: Feasibility and Usability Study
Xin Tong, Diane Gromala, Seyedeh Pegah Kiaei Ziabari, Christopher D Shaw
JMIR Serious Games  vol: 8  issue: 3  first page: e17354  year: 2020  
doi: 10.2196/17354