How reading helps empathy

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Dutch scientists

tested how the transport theory of psychology affects empathy. The idea of ​​such a theory is that comparing yourself to a character in a book (whether it’s good, bad, or even terrible) can affect how a person behaves after he closes the book. Scientists wanted to find out how emotional immersion in a book (i.e. transport) affects empathy: not only for fictional heroes, but also for real people.

According to the results of this work, the theory may be true: readers who showed a high level of emotional transport showed a

high level of empathy

even a week after reading.

To test this theory, scientists conducted two experiments. For the first, they invited 66 Dutch students. They were divided into two groups: “artistic” and “control”. 36 students from the "art" group read The Adventures of Six Napoleons - a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle.

30 "control" participants carefully studied two newspaper notes on current events: about the riots in Libya and the nuclear disaster in Japan.

How reading helps empathy

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The second study was actually a repetition of the first, with just about more participants and other reading materials. 97 Dutch students were asked to read either the first chapter of Jose Saramago’s book “Blindness” or five newspaper articles about the demonstrations in Greece and the national holiday in Holland.

During both experiments, each student filled out an online questionnaire on empathy and the theory of emotional transport.

These polls measured how much or weakly the participants were worried about events that had nothing to do with them, or spared people in principle. The purpose of the survey on emotional transport was to measure the power with which readers plunged into the plot. Participants filled out questionnaires only once during the experiment, but noted the strength of their empathy three times: before reading, after and a week after reading. And no muhlezh: the organizers carefully asked all the participants to be sure that they really read.

How reading helps empathy

Photo: shutterstock.

com

The results left no doubt: readers with a higher level of emotional transport showed a higher level of empathy after reading. They turned out to be more able to empathize with others than those who were less interested in the proposed stories, and than those students who read the newspaper instead of novels. Researchers concluded that those participants who were not impressed by the books became even less capable of empathy after reading than before.

What about newspaper notes? One could assume that reading about problems in the real world will increase the ability to empathize, but it turned out that everything was exactly the opposite. The authors of the study believe that reading about real events made people feel guilty or the need to specifically help, rather than abstractly empathize with.

How reading helps empathy

Photo: shutterstock. com

Of course, this study has its reservations. The groups of participants for the experiments were rather small, and they filled out the polls themselves, so it is likely that they were not completely honest in their answers. But the results are logical. If the reader cannot identify with the character or the plot seems boring to him, he is more likely to be distracted and annoyed, and such a negative reaction can make him think more about himself than about others.

On the other hand, if a person identifies himself with the plot and the main character, this allows him to look at the world from the point of view of the character. This new study is all the more important because it shows: reading a book - regardless of whether the main character is positive or negative - can really affect how people behave in real life.

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