Taking someone else’s viewpoint – utilizing empathy and emotional intelligence in ideation

Emotional intelligence (EI) is often defined as the skill of differentiating various emotions, the skill of using that information to direct thought and action, and the skill of monitoring the emotions both your own and someone else’s. Empathy is involved similarly in emotional processing and has been known to tie in with EI. What if we were to utilize both when coming with solutions for end-users? Could the two provide valuable information on the needs and requirements of end-users? In their article “Empathizing with the End User: Effect of Empathy and Emotional intelligence on Ideation” Mikko Salminen, Juho Hamari, and Niklas Ravaja aim to determine whether empathy and emotional intelligence have sway over creativity and whether the two could thus be useful when thinking of solutions and services for the end-user.

To find out, Salminen et al. conducted an experiment to determine if high levels of EI and empathy enable better recognition of other people’s problems, bolster the process of coming up with solutions for said problems, and increase the innovativeness of ideating the solutions. The authors asked participants to first read life stories of four differing people. To stimulate empathy, they were instructed to take either a position of low or high empathy by focusing on the events in the story or the person’s emotions in the story. After reading, the participants had five minutes to name potential problems the characters might be facing in their life. Finally, participants were asked to come up with services or solutions that could help in such predicaments. To monitor the levels of EI and empathy, the participants were surveyed before the experiment and they were asked to report on their feelings of empathy after each story.

As the researchers suspected, higher levels of emotional intelligence helped the participants create solutions and positively affected the number of problems they could list. However, it did not increase the innovativeness of solutions. As suspected, participants reported higher levels of empathy when asked to keep the character’s emotions in mind while reading. Though perhaps surprisingly evoked empathy failed to affect ideation at all, the authors emphasize it still has its place when trying to understand the end-user’s viewpoint. Overall, the results suggest that emotional intelligence may be advantageous in any ideation process in which the end user’s view is to be taken into consideration. The three authors note that the experiment could be expanded; yet the results speak for themselves – emotional intelligence, as well as empathy, may well have a role to play when ideating for the end-user.

Empathizing with the End User: Effect of Empathy and Emotional Intelligence on Ideation

Mikko Salminen

Juho Hamari

Niklas Ravaja

Reference: Mikko Salminen, Juho Hamari & Niklas Ravaja (2021). Empathizing with the End User: Effect of Empathy and Emotional Intelligence on Ideation, Creativity Research Journal, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2020.1864164

See the paper for full details:




Trait emotional intelligence and evoked empathy may help in a task where emotion-evoking source material is utilized to ideate solutions and services for the end-user. Participants of the current study read life stories of different persons, with perspective-taking instruction to evoke either high or low empathy. The reading was followed with ideation tasks, first identifying problems that the person of the story is facing, and then creating initial ideas for products or services to help with these problems. The perspective-taking empathy manipulation had an expected effect to the self-reported state empathy; however, it did not have an effect on the performance in the ideation tasks. Trait emotional intelligence was related to the detection of the problems and to the generating of more ideas. The results imply that emotional intelligence may be beneficial in ideation process where perspective of the customer or end user has to be considered.

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