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The Relationship Between Empathy and Reading Fiction: Separate Roles for Cognitive and Affective Components


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Research suggests that both life-time experience of reading fiction and the extent to which a reader feels ‘transported’ by the narrative are associated with empathy. This study examined these relationships further by delineating empathy into cognitive and affective components. Thirty-three participants were tested on prior exposure to fiction, transportation, and different measures of cognitive empathy, affective empathy and helping tendency. The results revealed that exposure to fiction was associated with trait cognitive, but not affective, empathy, while the experience of being transported was associated with story-induced affective empathy. Story-induced affective empathy was also associated with helping tendency. The results are discussed by considering implications for relationships between reactions to fictional worlds and reactions to real-world behaviours.
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Stanseld, J. and Bunce, L. (2014). The Relationship Between Empathy and
Reading Fiction: Separate Roles for Cognitive and Aective Components.
Journal of European Psychology Students, 5
 9-18, DOI: http://dx.doi.
Reading fiction can be a deeply absorbing experience.
Readers commonly refer to the experience of being lost in a
book (Nell, 1988), or being transported to a different world
(Gerrig, 1993). However, relatively little attention has been
paid to the mental processes associated with reading fic-
tion, and how they relate to thoughts and behaviours in the
real world. The current study examined the relationships
among different aspects of fiction reading, i.e. life-time
exposure to fictional stories and the immediate experi-
ence of being transported by a story, and two components
of empathy: cognitive and affective. Cognitive empathy is
the ability to understand the world from another person’s
point of view and to infer beliefs and intentions, whereas
affective empathy refers to the capacity to share another’s
feelings and emotions (Blair, 2005).
Much of fiction is concerned with protagonists’ under-
standings and misunderstandings of the beliefs and
motives of other characters and is only comprehensible if
the reader is exercising cognitive empathy (Lodge, 2002;
Zunshine, 2007). Affective empathy has also been pro-
posed as an essential component of the understanding
and enjoyment of fiction (Hogan, 2010). Indeed, Hogan
(2010) has argued that literary representations of emo-
tion may be ‘purer’ than those encountered in real-life,
and thus have the power to enhance individuals’ affec-
tive empathic responses. In addition to the cognitive and
affective empathy that is continuously exercised in ‘real-
world’ social situations, it has been suggested that a sep-
arate component of empathy underlies the tendency to
be transported by fictional stories and identify with their
characters (Davis, 1980). An interesting question therefore
arises as to the relationships between real-world practices
of cognitive and affective empathy, and the ability to be
transported by reading fiction.
Reading fictional stories has been found to be associated
with the development of empathy in children, suggest-
ing that there is an important link between the empathy
felt for fictional characters and the ability to empathise
with people in reality (Adrian, Clemente, Villaneuva &
Rieffe, 2005; Aram & Aviram, 2009; Mar, Tackett & Moore,
2010). Harris (2000) has suggested that there is continuity
between children’s and adults’ engagement with fictional
and real worlds. However, relatively few studies have
examined the relationship between reading fiction and
expressions of real-world empathy in adults.
In two studies by Mar and colleagues, college students
were tested on lifetime prior exposure to fictional texts
and measures of empathy. Mar, Oatley, Hirsh, dela Paz and
Peterson (2006) found that the amount of fiction students
had previously read predicted performance on a measure
of empathy requiring participants to infer mental states
from photographs of people’s eyes (the ‘Reading the Mind
in the Eyes’ [RME] test; Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill,
Raste & Plumb, 2001). The correlational design of this
study meant that inferences could not be drawn in rela-
tion to the causal link between exposure to fiction and
performance on the empathy related task. Thus, it is, as
of yet, unclear as to whether fiction-reading was the cause
The Relationship Between Empathy and Reading Fiction:
Separate Roles for Cognitive and Aective Components
John Stanseld* and Louise Bunce
journal of european
psychology students
* Independent Researcher, UK
University of Winchester, UK
Research suggests that both life-time experience of reading ction and the extent to which a reader
feels ‘transported’ by the narrative are associated with empathy. This study examined these relationships
further by delineating empathy into cognitive and aective components. Thirty-three participants were
tested on prior exposure to ction, transportation, and dierent measures of cognitive empathy, aec-
tive empathy and helping tendency. The results revealed that exposure to ction was associated with
trait cognitive, but not aective, empathy, while the experience of being transported was associated
with story-induced aective empathy. Story-induced aective empathy was also associated with helping
tendency. The results are discussed by considering implications for relationships between reactions to
ctional worlds and reactions to real-world behaviours.
Keywords: cognitive empathy; aective empathy; reading ction; transportation; helping behaviour
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction10
of greater empathic ability, whether people high in empa-
thy are more drawn to read fiction, or whether there was
an alternative unidentified variable that explained the
association. One alternative explanation, that individual
differences in personality were causally related to both
exposure to fiction and empathy, was eliminated by Mar,
Oatley and Peterson (2009). They found a positive rela-
tionship between exposure to fiction and ‘Reading the
Mind in the Eyes’ despite controlling for the Big 5 person-
ality variable of ‘openness to experience’.
Mar et al. (2006) did find a measure of social ability
that was negatively associated with exposure to fiction:
the Interpersonal Perception Task -15 (IPT-15; Costanzo
& Archer, 1989). This task measures the ability to decode
social relationships represented in video clips using non-
verbal cues, and was found by Costanzo and Archer (1989)
to be highly correlated with peer ratings of social skills.
These results suggest that there may be a more complex
relationship between reading fiction and empathy.
One possibility is that reading fiction has a stronger
relationship with cognitive empathy, than with affec-
tive empathy. According to Lodge (2002), a characteris-
tic of literary fiction is that it is able to provide detailed
moment-by-moment descriptions of the inner thoughts
and feelings of its protagonists, thereby providing rich
opportunities for readers to experience cognitive empa-
thy. In contrast, other fictional forms such as plays and
films can offer representations of the external behaviours
of their characters, but are less suited to the representa-
tion of internal thoughts and feelings. Based on the find-
ings of their research study, Mar and colleagues (2006)
suggested that an association between fiction-reading
and cognitive empathy might explain why the RME meas-
ure positively correlated with exposure to fiction. They
argued that the RME test is a measure of cognitive empa-
thy insofar as it relies on matching a verbal descriptor to
a depiction of a mental state, but does not necessarily
require the participant to share the emotion concerned.
The IPT-15, however, is more concerned with decoding
embodied emotional cues and might therefore be taken
as a measure of affective empathy, thus explaining why it
was not associated with prior exposure to fiction. Thus,
an aim of the present study was to test the hypothesis
that prior exposure to the reading of fiction is positively
associated with cognitive empathy abilities but not with
affective empathy.
While the Mar et al. studies considered the relationships
between prior exposure to fiction and empathy, other
studies have examined empathic responses to specific
fictional texts. One variable that has been found to affect
the relationship between fiction-reading and empathy
is termed ‘transportation’ (Johnson, 2012). Using Green
and Brock’s (2000) Transportation Index (which meas-
ures the extent to which a reader has been absorbed by
a story’s characters, plot and imagery) and the Affective
Empathy Index (Batson, Early & Salvarani, 1997), Johnson
(2012) found a positive relationship between affective
empathy and transportation in college students. That is,
participants who reported being absorbed in a story also
subsequently reported higher levels of emotions that
have been associated with affective empathy, such as
warmth, compassion and sympathy. Furthermore, there
was a positive relationship between the level of affective
empathy and performance in a subsequent ‘real-world’
helping task in which participants were presented with
an opportunity to help pick up some pens that had been
accidentally’ dropped by the researcher. This study was
also correlational in design, meaning that no inferences
could be drawn about a causal link between transporta-
tion and affective empathy. However, immediately prior
to reading the story, baseline measures of trait tenden-
cies to be transported by fiction and to feel affective
empathy were taken. By controlling for these, Johnson
was able to strongly suggest that there may be a direct
link between reading-induced experiences of affective
empathy and helping behaviour, unaccounted for by an
underlying tendency to be easily transported or experi-
ence affective empathy.
In addition to this, Bal and Veltkamp (2013) found that
participants who were assigned to read a fictional story
showed increased levels of affective empathy, but only
when highly transported. Participants assigned to read a
piece of non-fiction showed no increase in empathy. Both
the Johnson (2012) and Bal and Veltkamp (2013) studies
found associations between transportation and affective
empathy, but did not specifically test for a relationship
between transportation and cognitive empathy. Thus, an
additional aim of the current study was to test for asso-
ciations between transportation and both cognitive and
affective empathy.
Considering the previous studies, it may be overly sim-
plistic to propose a single relationship between reading
fiction and empathy. Individual differences in reading fic-
tion can be examined in relation to how much someone
has read over their life-time, and also how transported
they have been by a particular story. Furthermore, indi-
vidual differences in empathy can be assessed in relation
to both cognitive and affective empathy. The present
study was thus designed to explore individual differences
in life-time exposure to reading fiction, transportation,
and cognitive and affective empathy. In line with Mar
et al. (2006, 2009) it was hypothesised that exposure to
fiction would positively relate to cognitive empathy but
not necessarily to affective empathy. Conversely, in line
with Johnson (2012) and Bal and Veltkamp (2013) it was
predicted that transportation by a piece of fiction would
relate to levels of affective empathy and subsequent help-
ing tendencies, but not necessarily to exposure to fiction
or cognitive empathy.
Participants were students and staff from Oxford Brookes
University in the UK who volunteered in response to post-
ers displayed on campus. No incentive was offered for par-
ticipation. A total of 22 women and 11 men participated,
with a mean age of 29.5 years (range = 18 - 59 years, SD =
12.2 years). All participants spoke fluent English.
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction 11
Participants completed a number of questionnaire meas-
ures administered before and after reading a short fic-
tional story.
The ctional story
The fictional story was “Motholeli’s Story”, an extract
from the novel “Morality for Beautiful Girls” by Alexander
McCall Smith (2001). The extract was 1503 words long and
was a self-contained episode concerning the experiences
of an orphaned girl in Botswana. The story had previously
been found to evoke emotional responses (such as sympa-
thy and compassion) when used in a classroom exercise
(Keen, 2007).
Exposure to Fiction. The Author Recognition Test (ART;
Mar et al., 2006) uses ability to identify the names of
authors as an indirect measure of how much someone
reads, and has been found to be a reliable and valid
indicator of individual differences in exposure to print
(Stanovich & West, 1989). The ART comprised 140 names,
of which 50 were published fiction authors, 50 were pub-
lished non-fiction authors, and 40 were decoys who were
not published authors and thus, were not well known.
Exposure to Fiction was measured by allocating one point
for each correctly-identified fiction author, with Exposure
to Non-fiction also being measured by allocating one point
for each correctly identified non-fiction author. The inclu-
sion of decoys meant that it was possible to detect partici-
pants who used a guessing strategy. The internal reliability
of both measures for this sample was good (Exposure to
Fiction, α = .951; Exposure to Non-fiction, α = .855).
Trait Empathy. A baseline measure of trait empathy
was assessed using three subscales of the Interpersonal
Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1980). The IRI is an individ-
ual difference measure of empathy, with sub-scales that
encompass separate aspects of the overarching concept
of empathy. The first sub-scale, Fantasy (F), measured the
underlying tendency to identify with fictional charac-
ters, for example, “I really get involved with the feelings
of a character in a novel”. Internal reliability for this sub-
scale was good (α = .876). The second subscale, Empathic
Concern (EC), measured the underlying inclination to feel
affective empathy, such as, for example, “I often have ten-
der, concerned feelings about people less fortunate than
me. Reported internal reliability for this subscale was low,
(α = .503) given previous, higher reports by Davis (1980).
Further analysis was undertaken to determine whether
eliminating one or more items from the scale would
result in improved reliability. No item combinations
resulted in an alpha level greater than 0.6, however, and
therefore it was decided to continue to use the original,
well-validated, Empathic Concern subscale. The third sub-
scale, Perspective-Taking (PT), measured the underlying
propensity to exercise cognitive empathy, for example, “I
try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I
make a decision”. It reported internal reliability approach-
ing acceptability (α = .664). Each subscale consisted of
seven items and participants indicated how well each
item described them on a five point scale from “does not
describe me well” to “describes me extremely well”.
Story-induced Transportation. Transportation by the fic-
tional story was measured by Green and Brock’s (2000)
Transportation Index, which measures the extent to which
a reader has been engaged by a story’s characters, plot and
imagery. Items include content such as “I was mentally
involved in the narrative while reading it”. Internal reliabil-
ity for this sample was good, α = .835. The scale included
15 items and participants indicated how well each item
described their experience of reading the story on a five
point scale from “does not describe my experience well” to
describes my experience extremely well”.
Story-induced Affective Empathy. The Affective
Empathy Index (Batson, Early & Salvarani, 1997) was given
to participants after they read the story to examine the
amount of affective empathy experienced while reading.
Affective empathy in response to Motholeli’s story was
measured by asking participants to state on a 5-point
scale (1 = “very little or not at all”, 5 = “extremely”), to what
extent they had experienced feeling sympathetic, compas-
sionate, soft-hearted, warm, tender and moved while read-
ing the story. These items were distributed among a list of
20 additional emotional words (such as enthusiastic, nerv-
ous, attentive) serving as decoys. Internal reliability for this
sample was good, α = .852.
Story-induced Cognitive Empathy. Following the sug-
gestion of Mar et al. (2006), the ‘Reading the Mind in the
Eyes’ test (RME; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001) was given to
participants after they read the story. This test required
participants to choose one word from four candidates that
best described the state of mind of a person depicted by a
grayscale photograph of his/her eyes. There were 36 items
in total and only one correct response for each. A glossary
was provided so that participants could check the defini-
tion of candidate words if required. Internal reliability for
this sample approached acceptability, α = .667.
Helping Tendencies. As a measure of real-world helping
tendencies, participants were asked to complete a short
questionnaire designed by the researcher. Participants
were told that, although Motholeli is a fictional charac-
ter, there are over 2.5 million real orphans in South Africa
alone. They were then asked to tick a box to indicate “I
would like/prefer not to receive further information”.
Participants were provided with an envelope in which to
place their response so that it was not immediately visible
to the researcher, thus providing some mitigation against
pressure to make a socially desirable response.
Participants were tested individually in a small room on
campus. First, they completed the Exposure to Fiction
questionnaire and the Trait Empathy measures. Following
this, they read Motholeli’s story. After, they com-
pleted the Transportation Index, the Affective Empathy
Index, the RME test, and finally the Helping Tendencies
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction12
questionnaire. The procedure lasted approximately 30
minutes in total.
Figure 1 summarises the tasks and the sequence in
which they were administered. The construct(s) measured
by each task are shown in brackets and italicised.
The scale variables Exposure to Fiction, Exposure to Non-
fiction, Trait Empathy (Transportation, Affective and
Cognitive), Story-induced Transportation, Story-induced
Affective Empathy and Story-induced Cognitive Empathy
were first tested for internal reliability. Raw and partial
correlations were then calculated to explore relation-
ships between variables. Multiple regression and logistic
regression analyses were performed to determine the
extent to which cognitive empathy, affective empathy
and helping tendencies were predicted by exposure to fic-
tion and transportation. These analyses were conducted
after controlling for exposure to non-fiction and baseline
tendencies to be transported by a story and to experience
cognitive and affective empathy.
Raw correlations were calculated to investigate relation-
ships between the scale variables (see Table 1). As older
participants might be expected to have higher exposure
to fiction scores than younger participants, participants’
age in years was included in the correlation analysis.
As expected, a significant positive correlation was
found between Story-induced Affective Empathy and
Story-induced Transportation, r = 0.601, p < 0.01. Age was
significantly positively correlated with both Exposure to
Fiction and Exposure to Non-fiction. Exposure to Fiction
and Exposure to Non-fiction were also highly positively
correlated with each other, suggesting that these variables
may relate to a general interest in reading rather than a
specific interest in fiction/non-fiction per se. To control
for these potential confounds, partial correlations were
run for Exposure to Fiction and Exposure to Non-fiction
controlling for Age, for Exposure to Fiction controlling
for Exposure to Non-fiction and Age, and for Exposure
to Non-fiction controlling for Exposure to Fiction and
Age. The results of the partial correlations are shown in
Table 2. No other significant raw correlations were found.
There was no correlation between Exposure to Fiction and
cognitive empathy performance as measured by the RME
test, suggesting that for this sample Exposure to Fiction
was not related to this particular measure of social abil-
ity. There was also no correlation between Story-induced
Transportation and RME, suggesting that higher levels of
transportation by the story did not induce subsequent
higher performance in cognitive empathy.
The partial correlations confirmed that Exposure to
Fiction and Exposure to Non-fiction remained highly cor-
related after controlling for Age. They also revealed two
further significant relationships. Exposure to Fiction was
positively correlated with Trait Cognitive Empathy after
controlling for Age and Exposure to Non-fiction, r = .464,
df = 29, p = .009. Exposure to Non-fiction was negatively
correlated with Trait Cognitive Empathy after control-
ling for Age and Exposure to Fiction, r = -.522, df = 29,
p = .003. The partial correlations therefore indicated that
individuals with high Exposure to Fiction scored high in
Trait Cognitive Empathy, whereas individuals with high
Exposure to Non-fiction scored low in Trait Cognitive
Empathy. No further significant relationships were
Figure 1: Summary of Tasks.
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction 13
revealed by the partial correlations. There was no correla-
tion between Exposure to Fiction and cognitive empathy
as measured by the RME task.
Multiple Regression Analysis
It was expected that Story-induced Cognitive Empathy (as
measured by the RME test) would be predicted by Exposure
to Fiction, and that Story-induced Affective Empathy
would be predicted by Story-induced Transportation.
Simultaneous regression analysis was therefore used
to determine the unique contributions of Exposure
to Fiction and Story-induced Transportation to Story-
induced Cognitive Empathy and Story-induced Affective
Empathy. Control variables included in the analysis were
Age, Exposure to Non-fiction, Trait Transportation, Trait
Cognitive Empathy, and Trait Affective Empathy. Table 3
shows these results, with significant predictor variables
highlighted in bold.
The first regression tested the unique contribution
of the predictor variables to Story-induced Cognitive
Empathy. None of the predictor variables were signifi-
cant and the overall model failed to predict Story-induced
Cognitive Empathy better than chance, F(8, 24) = .225,
p = .983. RME performance was not predicted by Story-
induced Transportation or by any of the trait empathy
measures. Indeed none of the variables in the model had
a p-value of less than 0.3, suggesting that there was no
association between any of the variables and RME perfor-
mance. Although it was expected that RME would be an
index of Story-induced Cognitive Empathy, performance
on this task was unrelated to both prior reading experi-
ence and response to the specific reading task.
The second regression tested the unique contribu-
tion of the predictor variables to Story-induced Affective
Empathy. The model explained 24.9% (adjusted R2) of
the variance in Story-induced Affective Empathy, and
predicted Story-induced Affective Empathy at a level
approaching significance, F(8,24) = 2.342, p = .053. The
significant predictor variable in the model was Story-
induced Transportation, with a standardised coefficient of
.580 and a p-value of .002. None of the measures of trait
empathy predicted Story-induced Affective Empathy. The
regression analysis also indicated that neither Exposure to
Fiction nor Exposure to Non-fiction was a significant pre-
dictor of Story-induced Affective Empathy.
Logistic Regression Analysis
It was hypothesised that Helping Tendencies would be
predicted by Story-induced Affective Empathy. Helping
Tendencies was treated as a binary categorical variable
Age 1 0.746** 0.689** 0.311 0.230 0.092 -0.153 0.263 0.167
EF 1 0.819** 0.238 0.222 0.055 0.041 0.293 0.176
ENF 1 0.175 0.177 0.130 -0.059 -0.032 0.257
SIT 1 0.601** 0.097 0.124 0.011 0.161
SIAE 1 0.077 -0.075 -0.036 0.243
SICE 1 -0.021 -0.016 -0.099
TT 10.197 -0.021
TCE 10.106
EF(Controlling for Age) 1 0.631** 0.010 0.077 -0.020 0.236 0.150 0.048
ENF (Controlling for Age) - 1 -0.056 -0.027 0.092 0.065 -0.305 0.181
EF (Controlling for Age and ENF) 1 - 0.058 0.078 -0.101 0.253 0.464** -0.062
ENF (Controlling for Age and EF) - 1 -0.080 -0.028 0.135 -0.112 -0.522** 0.193
Table 1: Raw correlations between the scale variables.
Note: ** = p < 0.01, * = p < 0.05. Key to abbreviations: EF = exposure to fiction; ENF = exposure to non-fiction; SIT = story-
induced transportation; SIAE = story-induced affective empathy; SICE = story-induced cognitive empathy; TT = trait
transportation; TCE = trait cognitive empathy; TAE = trait affective empathy.
Table 2: Partial correlations controlling for Age, Exposure to Fiction and Exposure to Non-fiction.
Note: ** = p < 0.01. Key to abbreviations: EF = exposure to fiction; ENF = exposure to non-fiction; SIT = story-induced
transportation; SIAE = story-induced affective empathy; SICE = story-induced cognitive empathy; TT = trait transpor-
tation; TCE = trait cognitive empathy; TAE = trait affective empathy.
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction14
(further charity information requested/not requested).
Logistic regression analysis was used to assess the con-
tribution of predictor variables to Helping Tendencies. A
summary of the analysis is shown in Table 4, with signifi-
cant predictor variables highlighted in bold.
The model predicted Helping Tendencies at a level sig-
nificantly better then chance, χ2(9) = 20.388, p = .016.
A significant predictor in the model was Story-induced
Affective Empathy, with a standardised coefficient of 1.584
and a p-value of 0.038. Story-induced Transportation
was not a significant predictor of Helping Tendencies,
although Trait Transportation was significant for this sam-
ple, with a standardised coefficient of 1.309 and a p-value
of .04. Neither Exposure to Fiction nor Exposure to Non-
Fiction was a significant predictor of Helping Tendencies.
The results of the present study support the existence
of relationships between reading fiction and ‘real-world’
empathising abilities. Moreover, they indicate that two
different types of empathy, cognitive and affective, have
separate relationships with how much fiction an indi-
vidual reads and how transported they are when reading
a story. The amount of fiction that a person had previ-
ously been exposed to was positively associated with Trait
Cognitive Empathy, after controlling for age and exposure
to non-fiction texts. Conversely, those who had read more
non-fiction tended to rate themselves less highly in terms
of Trait Cognitive Empathy. The amount that participants
had previously read, and what they had read (fiction or
non-fiction), showed no association with their levels of
Trait Transportation or Trait Affective Empathy. This sug-
gests that the habit of reading fictional stories such as
novels is related to Trait Cognitive Empathy but not spe-
cifically to other trait empathy components.
Separate from the amount of fiction a person reads,
transportation refers to how vividly a person imagines
scenes and characters in a particular episode of story-
reading (Gerrig, 1993). Transportation was found to be
positively correlated with the extent to which participants
reported feelings of affective empathy, such as warmth
and compassion, while they read. Furthermore, analyses
revealed that the relationship between Story-induced
Transportation and Story-induced Affective Empathy was
stronger than that between Trait Affective Empathy and
Story-induced Affective Empathy. The correlational design
of the study requires caution in concluding that there is a
causal relationship between Story-induced Transportation
and Story-induced Affective Empathy. However, this study
does add to previous evidence (e.g. Johnson, 2012), which
eliminated an alternative explanation that Trait Affective
Empathy is the primary cause of Story-induced Affective
Empathy. It also supports the findings of Bal and Veltkamp
(2013) which state that transportation is an important
component of fiction-reading if a reader is to change and
become more emotionally empathic. This research also
Regression # Predictors Criterion B SE β p-value
1 Age SICE 0.010 0.114 0.029 0.931
EF -0.130 0.168 -0.347 0.448
ENF 0.340 0.348 0.425 0.338
SIT 0.032 0.119 0.070 0.680
TT 0.029 0.151 0.043 0.851
TCE 0.103 0.247 0.10 7 0.680
TAE -0.279 0.304 -0.204 0.367
2 Age SIAE -0.039 0.102 -.099 0.709
EF 0.128 0.151 0.295 0.406
ENF -0.164 0.317 -0.177 0.611
SIT 0.301 0.088 0.580 0.002
TT -0.164 0.132 -0.213 0.226
TCE -0.100 0.222 -0.089 0.658
TAE 0.347 0.269 0.220 0.209
Table 3: Summary of multiple regression analysis indicating the contribution of candidate predictor variables to varia-
tions in Story-induced Cognitive Empathy and Story-induced Affective Empathy.
Note: B = unstandardised coefficient; β = standardised coefficient. Key to abbreviations: EF = exposure to fiction; ENF
= exposure to non-fiction; SIT = story-induced transportation; SIAE = story-induced affective empathy; SICE = story-
induced cognitive empathy; TT = trait transportation; TCE = trait cognitive empathy; TAE = trait affective empathy.
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction 15
found that participants with higher levels of Story-induced
Affective Empathy were more likely to demonstrate help-
ing tendencies by indicating a desire to receive further
information about a charity, as were those with higher
Trait Transportation. Affective empathy in response to the
story and helping behaviour were not predicted at a sig-
nificant level by measures of Trait Ccognitive or Affective
Empathy. They were also not predicted by the amount of
fiction or non-fiction that had been read previously.
Finally, neither previous exposure to fiction or non-
fiction, nor the level of transportation in response to
the story, predicted how well participants performed on
the task requiring thoughts and feelings to be inferred
from images of people’s eyes (the RME test). Participants
responded equally well or poorly regardless of how much
fiction or non-fiction they had read, their self-reported
level of trait empathy, and how transported they had been
by the story.
These results will now be discussed in relation to pre-
vious research, and the implications of such findings
described, with a focus on understanding the relation-
ships between reading fiction and ‘real-world’ empathy.
Reading Fiction and Cognitive Empathy
The results from the current study support theories sug-
gesting that fictional stories require readers to understand
the different points of view of narrators and protagonists,
and that people who read a lot of fiction are therefore
likely to have highly developed faculties of cognitive
empathy (Zunshine, 2006). That exposure to fiction was
positively associated with a self-report measure of cogni-
tive empathy, but not with a self-report measure of affec-
tive empathy, is consistent with theory that written fiction
can provide a deeper insight into the minds of characters
than fiction in the form of plays or films (Lodge, 2002).
Importantly, exposure to fiction was not significantly asso-
ciated with trait transportation. A lifetime habit of reading
fiction was found to be more indicative of the exercise
of cognitive empathy in the real world than of empathy
for fantasy characters as measured by the Interpersonal
Reactivity Index. The relationship between fiction-reading
and ‘real-world’ cognitive empathy found in the current
study, adds to previous evidence (e.g. Mar et al., 2006;
Mar et al., 2009) which suggests that engagement with
the thoughts and feelings of characters in fictional sto-
ries might be closely related to the processes by which
individuals infer the mental states of people in the real
world. Future research could explore cognitive empathy
and exposure to fictional stories in plays, films and TV pro-
grammes and test whether the relationship is weaker than
the one that has been found between cognitive empathy
and exposure to written stories. This finding would have
interesting implications in terms of the potential benefits
of delivering different formats of fiction exposure to chil-
dren, and of developing and maintaining fiction-reading
habits in adults.
Contrary to previous research by Mar et al. (2006,
2009), the current study found no relationship between
exposure to fiction and performance on the RME test.
Mar et al. suggested that their findings were consistent
with the RME being an indicator of cognitive empathy.
However, although the RME has considerable face validity
as a measure of social ability, there have been differing
suggestions as to which component of empathy it actu-
ally measures. While Mar et al. (2006) suggested the task
might be a measure of cognitive empathy, another recent
study of fiction-reading and empathy (Kidd & Castano,
2013) utilised it as a measure of affective empathy. Given
that there have been inconsistent results between this
study and those previous with respect to the relation-
ship between the RME and fiction-reading, some further
lines of research are suggested. It would be useful to
consider the relationship between reading fiction and a
wider range of empathy-based tasks, including ones with
Regression # Predictors Criterion B SE βp-value
3 Age Helping Tendencies 0.092 0.089 1.096 0.304
EF -0.150 0.132 0.861 0.257
ENF 0.435 0.313 1.546 0.164
SICE 0.051 0.166 1.053 0.758
SIT -0.008 0.110 0.992 0.945
SIAE 0.460 0.221 1.584 0.038
TT 0.270 0.131 1.309 0.040
TCE -0.155 0.180 0.857 0.390
TAE -0.206 0.245 0.814 0.400
Table 4: Summary of logistic regression analysis indicating the contribution of candidate predictor variables to Helping
Note: B = unstandardised coefficient; β = standardised coefficient. Key to abbreviations: EF = exposure to fiction; ENF =
exposure to non-fiction; SIT = story-induced transportation; SIAE = story-induced affective empathy; SICE = story-
induced cognitive empathy; TT = trait transportation; TCE = trait cognitive empathy; TAE = trait affective empathy.
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction16
cognitive components that do not include emotion recog-
nition. It would also be interesting to include tasks that
rely on purely verbal information as well as tasks, such as
the RME, which use pictorial cues. It might be expected
that readers of fiction will perform better on tasks with a
higher verbal content, while those who experience fiction
more through film or TV will perform better on tasks with
a higher pictorial content.
Reading Fiction and Aective Empathy
The results of the current study support previous find-
ings (e.g. Johnson, 2012; Bal & Veltkamp, 2013), that the
more people are transported by a story, the more affective
empathy they experience while reading. The current study
is correlational in design, meaning that the inference that
transportation causes affective empathy cannot be made.
However, alternative explanations, (e.g. that individual dif-
ferences in trait transportation and trait affective empathy
might cause differences in actual affective empathy while
reading) were controlled by taking baseline measures of
these variables. This strengthens the argument that an
experience of being transported may play a causal role in
inducing affective empathy.
Trait affective empathy did not emerge as a strong pre-
dictor of story-induced empathy. These results appear to
support a model whereby story-induced empathy is a fea-
ture of transportation, but is not strongly related to ten-
dencies to feel affective empathy in the real-world. It is
notable, however, that for the current sample the measure
of trait affective empathy (the IRI-EC subscale) reported
low reliability. Future studies could explore whether a
sample with higher internal reliability for this measure
would reveal a stronger relationship between Trait and
Story-induced Affective Empathy, and how such a rela-
tionship might be mediated by transportation.
A novel finding of the current study is that Story-induced
Transportation was not associated with previous exposure
to fiction, suggesting that even people who are not regu-
lar fiction readers can still be transported by a particular
reading experience. Furthermore, transportation by this
particular story was not significantly correlated with indi-
vidual differences in Trait Transportation suggesting that
even if a person is not typically prone to transportation,
they can still experience it when reading a particular text.
The results of the current study add to previous evidence
(e.g. Johnson, 2012) that Story-induced Affective Empathy
is associated with the demonstration of helping tenden-
cies shortly after reading a story. A novel finding of the cur-
rent study is that affective empathic response to a specific
text is a stronger correlate of subsequent helping tenden-
cies than life-time exposure to fiction. This research also
indicates that Story-induced Transportation is associated
with higher levels of affective empathy, which in turn is
associated with the demonstration of helping tendencies.
Johnson (2012), however, has suggested that transpor-
tation might also independently contribute to helping
behaviours. It is possible that readers who are transported
by a story that models helping behaviour might be more
inclined to subsequently imitate such behaviours regard-
less of their level of Story-induced Affective Empathy.
Although the current study also used a story that mod-
elled helping behaviours, it is notable that Story-induced
Transportation did not predict Helping Tendencies
independently from Story-induced Affective Empathy.
Interestingly, although Trait Transportation was not
strongly correlated with Story-induced Transportation,
Trait Transportation did predict helping tendencies at
a level significantly better than chance. This result was
unexpected and although it may simply relate to a type
I error, future studies could examine how and to what
extent Transportation (Trait and Story-induced) might
directly relate to helping tendencies.
It should also be noted that the current study builds on
previous research by using a story with a very different
setting. In the previous study (Johnson, 2012), the story
location was familiar to the participants (a high school
in the USA), while in the present study the setting was
likely to be unfamiliar to participants (an orphanage in
Botswana). Despite differences in familiarity, both stories
generated affective empathy which in turn was associated
with helping tendencies. Research has found that the
more socially close two subjects are, the better able they
are to share emotional states (Preston & de Waal, 2002).
The findings of the present study however, suggest that
transportation by fiction can enable the sharing of emo-
tions even with characters who are socially distant from
individuals, with a potentially positive impact on their
real-world helping behaviours.
A primary limitation of the current study is that it was
correlational in design. Thus, it remains uncertain as
to whether exposure to fiction develops and strength-
ens trait cognitive empathy, or whether people who are
high in cognitive empathy are drawn to reading fiction
because of the opportunities it offers to exercise their
tendency to imagine the world as it appears to others.
Equally, it is unclear if transportation causes affective
empathy while reading a specific text, or alternatively
whether the experience of feeling affective empathy
plays a role in enabling the reader to feel transported.
Finally, while it is possible that reading-induced affective
empathy may play a role in inducing subsequent helping
behaviour, it might alternatively be the case that individ-
ual differences in the underlying tendency to be helpful
explain the variation in participants’ reports of feelings
of transportation and affective empathy. If participants
had guessed the hypothesis of the researcher and had an
underlying tendency to be helpful, that in itself might
account for the relationship between high affective
empathy and helping tendencies. Caution is therefore
required before extrapolating causational meaning from
such findings.
This limitation of a correlation design has been addressed
in other studies by introducing a non-fiction reading con-
trol group (e.g. Bal & Veltkamp, 2013; Kidd & Castano,
2013). However, a further methodological question arises
in respect to these studies, as to whether it is possible to
directly compare the experience of reading fiction to that
of reading non-fiction. Written texts vary from each other
Stanseld and Bunce: Empathy and Reading Fiction 17
across many different categories and dimensions, of which
the category of fictionality/non-fictionality is just one.
Some dimensions such as word count can be easily con-
trolled. Others such as subject matter, or emotional register
however may be more difficult to operationalise. Some cau-
tion may therefore be required in inferring causal relation-
ships from studies of fiction-reading that use experimental
designs. Future studies must continue to recognise the
inherent difficulties in concluding that reading fiction is
the cause of changes in empathy. Moreover correlational
designs will continue to be useful in identifying the rela-
tionships between the highly complex activity of fiction-
reading and mental processes and behaviours.
A further limitation of the current study was the dif-
ficulty in measuring how much fiction an individual has
been previously exposed to. A potential drawback of the
ART is that it might be an indirect measure of general
educational attainment, rather than of fiction-reading
habits. A well-educated individual might be aware of fic-
tion authors without having actually read their works.
However, the ART has been found to be a reliable and
valid indicator of individual differences in exposure to
print, and addresses the concern that participants might
tend to give socially desirable responses if simply asked to
estimate how much time they habitually spend reading
(Stanovich & West, 1989). Furthermore, the inclusion of
exposure to non-fiction as a control measure, meant that
the effect of exposure to fiction was specifically identified
over and above a general exposure to literature.
The study was also limited to a relatively small sample
size and in some cases (IRI-EC, IRI-PT and RME) the inter-
nal reliability of measures used was below the usual cut-
off point for adequacy. While strong relationships were
found between exposure to fiction and cognitive empa-
thy, between transportation and affective empathy, and
between affective empathy and helping-behaviour, repli-
cation of these results with a larger sample and greater
internal reliability could provide greater confidence in the
magnitude of these relationships.
A final limitation of the current study is that partici-
pants were all volunteers who had given their time for no
extrinsic reward. Therefore, it is possible that as a sample
they displayed higher trait helping tendencies than the
general population. Future research could compare these
results with a non-volunteer sample who had been offered
an extrinsic reward (e.g. a cash payment) for participat-
ing. Their baseline helping tendencies prior to reading the
story could also be measured, in addition to completing
the helping tendencies task.
This study has added to a small but growing body of
research that explores the relationships between reading
fiction, empathy, and helping tendencies. Specifically, it
indicates that reading fiction relates differently to cogni-
tive and affective empathy. Life-time exposure to fictional
texts is associated with the trait of cognitive empathy,
whereas the immediate experience of being transported
by a story is associated with affective empathy. Story-
induced affective empathy in turn predicts immediate
helping behaviour. Crucially, an individual’s habits and
experiences of reading fictional stories have implications
beyond the realms of ‘make-believe’ and fantasy. They
are associated with how people understand the minds of
those encountered in the real world, and motivation to
help those in distress. These are compelling reasons why
more attention should be paid to the enduring human
fascination with fictional stories.
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How to cite this article: Stanseld, J. and Bunce, L. (2014). The Relationship Between Empathy and Reading Fiction: Separate
Roles for Cognitive and Aective Components.
Journal of European Psychology Students, 5
(3), 9-18, DOI:
Published: 14 July 2014
Copyright: © 2014 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY 3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original author and source are credited. See
Journal of European Psychology Students
is a peer-reviewed open access journal published
by Ubiquity Press.
... This study aims to determine whether the empathy level of adolescents who read more fiction is higher compared to those who do not. Stansfield and Bunce (2014) found that reading fiction specifically enhances cognitive empathy or the ability to understand another person's perspective. Reading fiction activities may be an avenue for intervention in increasing empathy capacity. ...
... The higher the score, the higher the empathy level. The third part is the Fiction Reading Scale (FRS) with 16 items centered on the amount of fiction read, time spent reading, interest, and emotional transportation derived from Stansfield and Bunce (2014) with question ideas from Fitzgerald (2014). It also used the 9-point scoring system (Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972) with possible scores of -64 to +64. ...
... Age and reading fiction have a significant relationship. The findings contradict the results of Stansfield and Bunce (2014) where age has a significantly positively relationship with fiction exposure. This observed decline in reading fiction could be due to the presence of other activities which are also interesting and entertaining such as video games, watching movies at home, sports activities, and social media connections via the Internet (Ingraham, 2016;Denby, 2016). ...
This study aimed to discover if adolescents’ and young adults’ empathy capacity is higher when they engage more in fiction reading. A total of 301 students, aged 16-22, completed a self-administered questionnaire. More than half (56%) of the respondents consider reading as a hobby with books as the preferred reading material. Around 38% have moderate fiction reading scores and around 77% have high empathy capacity scores. Findings showed that the older the respondent is, the less likely they would read fiction and the lower their empathy level. Females are more likely to read fiction and are more empathic than males. Also, results revealed that the more the individual reads fiction, the more empathic they can become. Home and school interventions can be created to increase opportunities and desire for reading fiction and enhancing empathy capacity.
... Although empathy with persons and fictional characters might not be identical, it has time and again been claimed that the latter might be some sort of training ground for the former. While reliable empirical evidence for this claim is notoriously difficult to come by (as already discussed in Keen 2007; and more recently in Currie 2020) and positive results of psychological studies like Kidd and Castano (2013) have not been easily reproducible (Panero et al. 2016, for example, report their failure to replicate the results of Kidd and Castano 2013; other empirical studies regarding this topic are Mar et al. 2009;Bal and Veltkamp 2013;Djikic et al. 2013;Stansfield and Bunce 2014), it has often been argued that fiction enhances our capacity and willingness to empathize in real life (e.g. in Nussbaum 2000;Pinker 2011). By simulating either the mental state a character is in or by imagining being in the character's situation, readers, according to this notion, train their imaginative and empathic skills. ...
... À côté du nombre croissant de contributions proposées, depuis les années 2000, par les théoriciens de la littérature (Keen, 2007 ;Hogan, 2011 ;Oatley, 2012), on assiste, depuis quelques années, à la multiplication des travaux expérimentaux au sein de ces deux champs émergents que sont la psycho-et de la neuroesthétique du langage (voir par exemple : Miall, 2009 ;Obermeier et al., 2013 ;Wassiliwizky et al., 2017). Parmi les thématiques abordées, il convient ici de mentionner le rôle de l'empathie dans l'expérience narrative (Keen, 2007 ;Hammond, Kim, 2014 ;Stanfield, Bunce, 2014 ;Fischer, 2017), l'implication des sentiments dans l'expérience fictionnelle (Werner et al., 2013 ;Koblížek, 2017), ou encore la problématique de la « tension narrative » (Baroni, 2007). ...
... In these studies, after controlling for nonfiction, fiction exposure is associated with better performance on theory-of-mind and empathy tasks 26 , and predicts self-reported cognitive empathy 30 . In contrast, after controlling for fiction, nonfiction shows null or even negative correlations with these same measures 26,30 . In addition, the relationship between reading fiction and social-cognitive skills remains statistically significant when a number of individual differences are statistically controlled (e.g., gender, age, Openness to Experience, intelligence 24,26,31 ; but see also contradictory findings 25 ). ...
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Deux expériences ont été menées auprès d'adultes américains pour voir dans quelle mesure le traitement orthographique peut compter pour une partie de variance supplémentaire dans la reconnaissance de mots et l'épellation. Une nouvelle mesure du degré d'exposition à l'écrit a été développée et validée dans les deux expériences: Le test de reconnaissance d'auteurs (ART). Cette mesure a été développée pour contourner le problème posé par les méthodes habituellement utilisées dans les recherches auprès d'adultes, qui font qu'ils ont tendance à répondre en conformité avec ce qu'ils jugent socialement acceptable. Le test de reconnaissance d'auteurs s'est révélé un prédicteur extrêmement robuste et indépendant de l'habileté à traiter des mots. Dans la seconde expérience, les résultats des sujets à cette mesure ont permis de prédire une partie importante de la variance pour le traitement orthographique indépendamment des facteurs phonologiques. Les résultats aux deux expériences appuient l'idée qu'une partie des différences individuelles en lecture et en épellation est due aux habiletés de traitement orthographique. De plus, ces habiletés de traitement orthographique apparaissent liées au degré d'exposition à l'écrit ce qui permet de poser comme hypothèse que l'acquisition de ces habiletés est conditionnée par l'environnement et n'est pas uniquement le produit des différences individuelles dans les habiletés de traitement phonologique. Les deux expériences ont confirmé l'utilité du test de reconnaissance d'auteurs comme mesure du degré d'exposition à l'écrit dans les recherches sur les conséquences cognitives de la littéracie. /// [Spanish] Las habilidades de procesamiento fonológico han explicado algunas, pero no todas, las variaciones en la habilidad para reconocer palabras tanto en niños como en adultos. En dos experimentos con sujetos adultos en los Estados Unidos, los autores investigaron si la habilidad de procesamiento ortográfico puede explicar la varianza adicional en el reconocimiento de palabras y su habilidad ortográfica. Una nueva medida de diferencias individuales en la exposición a materiales impresos--La prueba de reconocimiento de autores (ART)--fue desarrollada y validada en dos experimentos. Esta medida fue diseñada para estar relativamente libre de un problema que han sufrido la mayoría de los indicadores de exposición a materiales impresos que se usan en estudios de adultos--la tendencia de los sujetos a dar respuestas que ellos piensan son las que se esperan de ellos; las socialmente deseables. La prueba de reconocimiento de autores demostró ser un predictor notablemente robusto e independiente para predecir la habilidad de procesar palabras. En el Experimento 2, el desempeño de los sujetos en esta medida demostró que podía predecir la variabilidad en el procesamiento ortográfico, de manera independiente de los factores fonológicos. Los resultados de dos experimentos apoyan la idea de que hay diferencias individuales en lectura y ortografía causadas por la variación en las habilidades del procesamiento ortográfico. Además, estas habilidades de procesamiento ortográfico parecen estar relacionadas con la exposición a materiales impresos, y de esta manera estar mediados ambientalmente más bien, que ser simplemente productos indirectos de diferencias en la habilidad del procesamiento fonológico. Ambos estudios demostraron la ayuda potencial que la prueba de reconocimiento de autores tiene como un indicador de exposición a materiales impresos en la investigación de las consecuencias cognitivas del alfabetismo. /// [German] In der Vergangenheit war gezeigt worden, daß die Fähigkeiten der phonologischen Verarbeitung nur für einen Teil des Unterschieds in der Fähigkeit des Worterkennens zwischen Kindern und Erwachsenen zuständig waren. In zwei Experimenten, die mit Erwachsenen in den Vereinigten Staaten durchgeführt wurden, untersuchten die Verfasser, ob die Fähigkeit der orthographischen Verarbeitung für einen Teil des weiteren Unterschieds im Worterkennen und in der Rechtschreibkenntnis verantwortlich zeichnen kann. Für das Messen individueller Unterschiede bei der Wahrnehmung gedruckter Texte wurde ein neuer Maßstab aufgestellt und in zwei Experimenten bestätigt: der Test über Erkennen des Verfassers (ART). Dieser Maßstab wurde so aufgestellt, daß er relativ frei von einem Durcheinander ist, das die meisten Studien mit Erwachsenen, in denen Anzeigen über das Wahrnehmen gedruckter Texte untersucht wurden, negativ beeinflußte: die Neigung seitens der Teilnehmer, Antworten zu geben, die sie gesellschaftlich für erwünscht heilten. Es stellte sich heraus, daß der Verfassererkennungstest eine bemerkenswert beständige und unabhängige Voraussage der Wortverarbeitungsfähigkeiten leistete. Im zweiten Experiment zeigte sich, daß die Leistungen der Teilnehmer bei diesem Maßstab Unterschiede in der orthographischen Verarbeitung, die von phonologischen Faktoren unabhängig war, voraussagte. Die Resultate beider Experimente unterstützen die Vorstellung, daß beim Lesen und Buchstabieren individuelle Unterschiede bestehen, die durch Verschiedenheiten in den Fertigkeiten der orthographischen Verarbeitung hervorgerufen werden. Zusätzlich scheinen diese Fertigkeiten in der orthographischen Verarbeitung mit einer Wahrnehmung gedruckter Texte in Verbindung zu stehen und deshalb durch die Umgebung vermittelt zu sein--und nicht etwa einfach nur Nebenprodukte der Unterschiede in der Fertigkeit der phonologischen Verarbeitung zu sein. Beide Studien bewiesen die potentielle Nützlichkeit des Verfassererkennungstests als Textwahrnehmungsmaßstab in der Forschung über kognitive Auswirkungen in der Beherrschung der Schriftsprache.
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The current study investigated whether fiction experiences change empathy of the reader. Based on transportation theory, it was predicted that when people read fiction, and they are emotionally transported into the story, they become more empathic. Two experiments showed that empathy was influenced over a period of one week for people who read a fictional story, but only when they were emotionally transported into the story. No transportation led to lower empathy in both studies, while study 1 showed that high transportation led to higher empathy among fiction readers. These effects were not found for people in the control condition where people read non-fiction. The study showed that fiction influences empathy of the reader, but only under the condition of low or high emotional transportation into the story.
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This study assessed storybook reading at home with reference to kindergartners’ empathy, socioemotional adjustment, language, and alphabetic skills. Beyond considering the frequency of storybook reading, measures included maternal expertise in choosing books. Findings indicated various relations between aspects of storybook reading and early development. Frequency of storybook reading was related to the child's language ability, whereas maternal expertise in choosing books was related to the child's empathy and socioemotional adjustment. These results suggest the need for further study of differential connections between shared reading and child development.
This book presents an account of the relationships among novel reading, empathy, and altruism. Though readers' and authors' empathy certainly contribute to the emotional resonance of fiction and its success in the marketplace, this book finds the case for altruistic consequences of novel reading inconclusive. It offers instead a detailed theory of narrative empathy, with proposals about its deployment by novelists and its results in readers. The book engages with neuroscience and contemporary psychological research on empathy, bringing affect to the center of cognitive literary studies' scrutiny of narrative fiction. Drawing on narrative theory, literary history, philosophy, and contemporary scholarship in discourse processing, the book brings together resources and challenges for the literary study of empathy and the psychological study of fiction reading. Empathy robustly enters into affective responses to fiction, but its proper role in shaping the behavior of emotional readers has been debated for three centuries. The book surveys these debates and offers a series of hypotheses about literary empathy, including narrative techniques inviting empathetic response. It argues that above all readers' perception of a text's fictiveness increases the likelihood of readers' empathy, by releasing readers from their guarded responses to the demands of real others. The book confirms the centrality of narrative empathy as a strategy, as well as a subject, of contemporary novelists. Despite the disrepute of putative human universals, novelists from around the world endorse the notion of shared human emotions when they overtly call upon their readers' empathy. Consequently, the book suggests, if narrative empathy is to be better understood, women's reading and popular fiction must be accorded the respect of experimental inquiry.
Theorists from diverse disciplines purport narrative fiction serves to foster empathic development and growth. In two studies, participants’ subjective, behavioral, and perceptual responses were observed after reading a short fictional story. In study 1, participants who were more transported into the story exhibited higher affective empathy and were more likely to engage in prosocial behavior. In study 2, reading-induced affective empathy was related to greater bias toward subtle, fearful facial expressions, decreased perceptual accuracy of fearful expressions, and a higher likelihood of engaging in prosocial behavior. These effects persisted after controlling for an individual’s dispositional empathy and general tendency to become absorbed in a story. This study provides an important initial step in empirically demonstrating the influence of reading fiction on empathy, emotional perception, and prosocial behavior.
Although often confused, imagining how another feels and imagining how you would feel are two distinct forms of perspective taking with different emotional consequences. The former evokes empathy; the latter, both empathy and distress. To test this claim, undergraduates listened to a (bogus) pilot radio interview with a young woman in serious need. One third were instructed to remain objective while listening; one third, to imagine how the young woman felt; and one third, to imagine how they would feel in her situation. The two imagine perspectives produced the predicted distinct pattern of emotions, suggesting different motivational consequences: Imagining how the other feels produced empathy, which has been found to evoke altruistic motivation; imagining how you would feel produced empathy, but it also produced personal distress, which has been found to evoke egoistic motivation.