added a research item
Empathic abilities can be promoted by reading literary fiction, since understanding fictional narrative requires more authors’ intentions interpretation than journalistic or academic writing. Here, we aimed to investigate whether reading a poem, which involves higher levels of inference than prose, further increases trait empathy levels. In Study 1, 70 adults (Italy=30, Singapore=40) read either a poem or a non-poem over the same topic (family bonding). Trait empathy levels were measured before and after text presentation through self-reported questionnaires, while ECG recordings were taken during text presentation. To rule out attention modulation, in Study 2 EEG measurements were recorded from 45 participants (Italy=16, Singapore=24) who read both the poem and the non-poem. In each study, participants’ literary knowledge was assessed using the Authors’ Recognition Test. Results from Study 1 indicate that the poem increases empathy trait levels, especially in individuals with a lower empathic baseline, and physiological arousal, as highlighted by increased low frequencies and decreased variability in participants’ heart rate, compared to the non-poem condition. Study 2 revealed that poem’s reading effect was not due to attentional modulation since no difference in frontal areas’ gamma waves was found. Rather, poem reading enhanced participants’ relaxation as highlighted by an increase in alpha wave activities. Comparable results were obtained in both Western and Eastern populations, lending support to effects generalizability. Findings suggest that reading poetry increase empathic traits modulating readers’ neurophysiological activity. As such, poetry exposure could help individuals increase their empathic behaviors.