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What is empathy?

Moreover, these effects could not attributed to difficulty of the texts, or experienced negative or positive emotions. Although the regression analyses showed that when people experienced negative emotions while reading, the interactions of condition and transportation were also significant, showing that fiction reading influences empathic skills beyond simple emotional effects and this can be both negatively and postively. The current study investigated the influence of fictional narrative experience on empathy over time. More specifically, highly transported readers of Doyle became more empathic, while non-transported readers of both Doyle and Saramago became less empathic.

These effects were not found for readers in the control condition in both studies, although nonfiction readers in study 2 decreased in empathy when transportation increased. Increase of emotional transportation enhances empathy for fiction readers while it does not for nonfiction readers, such that it leads to higher empathy at relatively high levels of transportation. For study 1, indeed high transportation led to increases in empathy for fiction readers, while for both studies 1 and 2 absence of transportation was associated with decreases in empathy for fiction readers.

This could be explained because when a reader is not able to identify with a text and does not become transported, this might lead to disengagement, with the reader being distracted and frustrated, as suggested by Pelowski and Akiba [29]. In other words, a reader has to become fully transported into the story to change as a consequence of reading, to become more empathic. When a reader is not able to identify with a fictional narrative and does not become transported, this might lead to disengagement, with the reader being distracted and frustrated.

When readers disengage from what they read, they possibly become more self-centered and selfish in order to protect the sense of self in relation to others [17]. Yet, these results are important, because previous research has claimed that fiction reading has positive effects [6] — [7] , while we are amongst the first who also show that fiction reading might have negative effects, when readers do not become transported, and hence, disengage from literature.

For the participants in study 2, empathic skills decreased somewhat when they became emotionally transported into the newspaper stories. Finally, from study 2 we conclude that these effects hold even after controlling for factors such as general narrative experience, experienced negative and positive emotions during reading and the experienced difficulty of the texts. Therefore, the effects of increased empathic skills cannot be solely attributed towards the emotions people experience in response to either a fictional or non-fictional text or the difficulty people have in reading a texts.

These are the first empirical studies showing under realistic conditions that fiction reading is related to empathic skills. Although previous studies have pointed towards these effects [6] , [7] , we show that reading real stories relates to how people sympathize with others, are able to take multiple perspectives, and feel for unfortunate others.

Increase of empathy is important for people because empathy is positively related to creativity [26] , performance at work [25] , and prosocial and cooperative behaviors [59] , [60]. The current study has a number of implications for future research on the role of fictional narrative experiences. First, and most importantly, the current study followed the transportation framework of Gerrig [12] , [17] to postulate specific predictions of the conditions under which fiction experience relates to outcomes.

We have shown that emotional transportation influences the reactions toward fiction reading in terms of changes in empathy. Since the main effects of the conditions were not significantly related to change of empathic skills over time, it is not the activity of reading itself that transforms the self, but the emotional involvement in a narrative [28] , [45]. Therefore, it is imperative for future research on the effects of fictional narrative experience to take the role of transportation processes into account.

We have argued that it is through sympathizing with the characters in a story that people become more empathic. However, not every fictional narrative will provoke sympathy; for instance characters in a story may act in ways that the reader disapproves, and consequently no sympathy is felt for the characters.

It might be possible that other effects of these experiences of disapproval are established, such as changes in moral values [44]. This study also corroborates this hypothesis by showing that low transportation leads to lower empathy over time. Future research may shed more light on this issue.

Moreover, the study has shown that effects of fictional experience are different from the control condition in which non-fictional texts were used [12]. Although both types of narratives may elicit strong emotions, and people may become engaged in reading both types of narratives [15] , the outcomes may be opposite to each other.

While transportation into fiction may cause people to sympathize with other people, through felt emotions, high involvement and sympathy for people in non-fiction stories may create felt obligations to do something while not possible, which consequently leads to lower empathy [39] , [40]. When we read non-fiction, readers have to suspend disbelief to be changed by the story. When reading fiction, however, disbelief has not to be suspended because readers are likely to accept information from fiction without asking themselves whether the information is true or not [12].

Therefore, the processes through which fiction experience relate to outcomes is wholly different from more logical processes, which are guided by non-fiction reading [16]. Future research should further disentangle the differential impact of these fictional and non-fictional narrative experiences. Finally, the current study has shown that the effects do not present themselves immediately, but that the effects are guided by an absolute sleeper effect [33].

Theoretically, fictional narratives are more likely to influence behavior over the course of a week rather than directly after the narrative experience, because the process of transformation of an individual needs time to unfold [38] , [44]. For instance, people think back and mentally relive the story they have read. The effects of fictional narrative experience may flourish under conditions of an incubation period, in which the changes in empathy become internalized and part of the self-concept [29].

Therefore, research on fictional narrative experience should be guided by a temporal design of the proposed effects. For instance, if the proposed outcomes of fictional narrative experiences are experienced emotions or psychological detachment from work, the effects will be more immediate and direct rather than when outcomes such as empathy or creativity are investigated.

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One of the limitations of the current study was that the participants in the fiction condition only read the first part of a Sherlock Holmes story and the first chapter of the novel by Saramago. Therefore, it is possible that the effects of the fictional narrative experience are somewhat underestimated, since the experience of a complete story or novel may be different than reading a single chapter.

First, if empathy is positively related to experience with reading fictional narratives, as previously suggested [6] , [7] , then it can be expected that longer exposure to a novel will have stronger effects than reading a single chapter.

Furthermore, readers of a fictional narrative can identify with the main characters [12] , [14] , and such identification and sympathizing with the main characters can be expected to be stronger as the reader becomes more familiar with them, in other words, when one reads more of a novel. Thus, the effects of fictional narrative experiences may be stronger as one has more prolonged exposures.

Edith Stein’s phenomenology of sensual and emotional empathy | SpringerLink

However, it might be also the case that because participants in the control condition read multiple stories, even though they had more opportunities to become transported, these opportunities were less expanded than in the fiction condition. Future research should therefore include more similar stories to ascertain the effects of fiction and non-fiction.

For instance, nonfictional reports could be constructed which are equivalent to fictional stories, such that more specific evidence can be gathered concerning the impact of fiction reading on outcomes. A limitation to the beneficial effects of fictional narrative experiences on perceived empathy could be that there are ceiling effects regarding increases of empathy following a fictional narrative experience.

Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action?

That is, although we have shown that empathy increases over the course of one week when one becomes transported into a narrative, it might be the case that the potential effects become smaller for avid readers or for highly empathic people. The sample of the current study consisted mainly of younger randomly selected students, who may therefore be more likely to be influenced by fictional narratives, than groups of highly experienced readers or a selection of highly empathic people.

However, whether this line of thought is actually true remains an empirical question. In contrast, low transportation may lead to disengagement from a text. When readers have to read a text, they may feel less empathy with other people when they cannot identify with the characters in the text, and they may experience feelings of rejection, disgust, and disengagement. Hence, their empathic skills may decrease when they disengage.

A related question pertains to what happens during the week that is between reading a text and increase in empathy. Future research should investigate how the process evolves over time, so that better knowledge is gained as to what exactly happens over time when people have read and are transported into fictional stories. An interesting avenue for further research is to investigate other outcomes of fictional narrative experiences.

Next to affecting empathic skills of the reader, fictional narrative experiences may also influence creativity [17] , psychological detachment and recovery from work. Because fictional narrative experience is closely linked towards imaginative processing, readers of fiction learn to develop imagination in alternative worlds, through transportation in narratives. Subsequently, people develop broader action repertoires, causing them to be more creative in finding solutions for complex problems [17]. Moreover, through fiction experience, people take the opportunity to relax and unwind from work through which they can recover from their work.

In contrast, non-fiction reading might be associated with alternative consequences than empathy. For instance, reading about events that have taken place in reality may create feelings of guilt and obligation [39].


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Future research should investigate these alternative outcomes as well. Another area for future research is to investigate the differential roles of transportation processes in determining outcomes. Because fiction experiences are inherently emotional in nature [2] , it is the emotional engagement in the story and the characters in the story that cause people to identify and sympathize with others. However, if people just want to know how a story ends and how a mystery is solved, and hence are only cognitively transported without being emotionally involved [12] other outcomes may be expected, such as enhanced problem solving skills.

Hence, depending on the outcome of fictional narrative experiences, the type of transportation i. A related area is the increasingly blurred distinction between fiction and non-fiction. In the current study, we used for the control condition articles from a newspaper, belonging in the nonfiction category or logico-scientific thinking [16]. Hence, the fictional nature of these types of stories i. Therefore, the fictional boundaries of non-fictional stories become broader, offering the potential experiences of fictional narratives, including the effects attributed to such experiences.

Therefore, we relied on how people assess how empathic they are. Although for future research it is recommended to obtain multiple perspectives on the outcomes under study e. As previous research has shown, common method bias is less likely to affect moderated hypotheses [61]. The current study investigated how fictional narrative experience relates to empathic skills over time. Through two experiments, it was shown that transportation into fictional narratives influence empathy over time; a lack of transportation is related to lower empathy, while a high level of transportation might be related to higher empathy.

Thanks to Richard Gerrig for his comments on a previous draft of the paper. No current external funding sources for this study. The study was completely covered by the Erasmus University Rotterdam, where the study was conducted. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. PLoS One. Published online Jan Matthijs Bal. Liane Young, Editor. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer.

There are no patents, products in development or marketed products to declare. This does not alter the authors' adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials, as detailed online in the guide for authors. Received Sep 4; Accepted Dec This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are properly credited.

This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract The current study investigated whether fiction experiences change empathy of the reader. Introduction Reading books and watching movies, plays, and operas are activities that people carry out on a day-to-day basis in their lives. Fiction, Non-fiction and Narrative Structures It has been argued that fiction may elicit stronger emotional and behavioral effects than nonfiction reading e. Effects of Fiction Experience on Empathy Even though little research has been conducted on the effects of fiction reading on empathy, there are several researchers who have explained why fiction reading influences empathy.

Why does Fiction have an Impact on our Lives? The Role of Transportation in the Effects of Fictional Narratives According to Gerrig [12] , when people read a fictional narrative, they may become fully immersed into the story, which presents an alternative narrative world that is distant from the real world. Sleeper Effects of Fiction on Outcomes Finally, in line with Appel and Richter [33] , we expect that the effects of fiction experience on empathy are guided by an absolute sleeper effect [46] , [47].

The Present Research All in all, we expect that fiction will affect empathy over time only when a reader is emotionally transported into a story. The formal hypothesis of the study is: Hypothesis 1: Fiction reading is positively related to empathy across time, but only when the reader is emotionally transported into the story.

Study 1 Materials and Methods Participants Participants were 66 Dutch students who received course credits for participating in the study. Procedure Participants worked from home where they filled out the questionnaires and read the stories online via computer. Results and Discussion Hierarchical regression analyses were used to test the hypotheses. Table 1 Study 1: Means, standard deviations, reliabilities and correlations of the study variables. Open in a separate window.

Reliabilities are reported along the diagonal. Figure 1. The interaction pattern between emotional transportation and condition in relation to changes in empathy from T1 to T3 Study 1. Table 2 Study 1: Hierarchical regression analyses predicting empathy T3. Standardized regression coefficients are reported. Study 2 Materials and Methods Participants Participants were 97 undergraduate Dutch students who received course credits for participating in the study. Procedure Participants worked again from home where they filled out the questionnaires and read the stories online via the computer.

Analysis Hierarchical regression analyses were used to test the hypothesis. Table 3 Study 2: Means, standard deviations, reliabilities and correlations of the study variables. Results and Discussion Hierarchical regression analyses are shown in Table 4. Figure 2. The interaction pattern between emotional transportation and condition in relation to changes in empathy from T1 to T3 Study 2. Table 4 Study 2: Hierarchical regression analyses predicting empathy T3. General Discussion The current study investigated the influence of fictional narrative experience on empathy over time.

Research Implications The current study has a number of implications for future research on the role of fictional narrative experiences. Limitations and Suggestions for Further Research One of the limitations of the current study was that the participants in the fiction condition only read the first part of a Sherlock Holmes story and the first chapter of the novel by Saramago.

Conclusion The current study investigated how fictional narrative experience relates to empathic skills over time. Funding Statement No current external funding sources for this study. References 1. Narrative Impact. Social and Cognitive Foundations. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum. Oatley K Why fiction may be twice as true as fact: fiction as cognitive and emotional simulation. Rev Gen Psychol 3 : — Oatley K Emotions and the story world of fiction. Research on Emotions in Organizations, 1, — Coplan A Empathic engagement with narrative fictions. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62 : — J Res Pers 40 : — Communications 34 : — Journal of Consumer Research 34 : — J Mem Lang 60 : — J Mem Lang 49 : — Busselle R, Bilandzic H Measuring narrative engagement.

Media Psychol 12 : — On the Psychological Activities of Reading. New Haven: Yale University Press. Green MC Transportation into narrative worlds: the role of prior knowledge and perceived realism. Discourse Processes 38 : — J Pers Soc Psychol 79 : — Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 3 : — Bruner J Actual minds, possible worlds.

Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Rev Gen Psychol 15 : — Gerrig RJ Narrative thought? Pers Soc Psychol Bull 20 : — Poetics 30 : — Zwaan RA The immersed experiencer: Toward an embodied theory of language comprehension. In Ross BH, editor. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation. New York: Academic Press.

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Cogn Emot 25 : — Davis MH A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology 10 : 85— Davis MH Measuring individual differences in empathy: evidence for a multidimensional approach. J Pers Soc Psychol 44 : — Br J Soc Work 40 : — Grant AM Does intrinsic motivation fuel the prosocial fire?

Motivational synergy in predicting persistence, performance, and productivity. J Appl Psychol 93 : 48— Grant AM, Berry JW The necessity of others is the mother of invention: intrinsic and prosocial motivations, perspective taking, and creativity. Academy of Management Journal 54 : 73— Shuman A Entitlement and empathy in personal narrative. Narrative Inquiry 16 : — Creat Res J 21 : 24— Pelowski M, Akiba F A model of art perception, evaluation and emotion in transformative aesthetic experience.

New Ideas Psychol 29 : 80— J Mem Lang 45 : — Psychol Bull : — Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 : 33— Appel M, Richter T Persuasive effects of fictional narratives increase over time. Med Psychol 10 : — Psychol Sci 2 : — New York: Springer-Verlag. Psychon Bull Rev 4 : — Psychon Bull Rev 6 : — Mem Cogn 34 : — Judgm Decis Mak 2 : 79— Small DA, Loewenstein G, Slovic P Sympathy and callousness: The impact of deliberate thought on donations to identifiable and statistical victims.

Organ Behav Hum Decis Process : — Newhaven: Yale University Press. Busselle R, Bilandzic H Fictionality and perceived realism in experiencing stories: a model of narrative comprehension and engagement. Commun Theory 18 : — J Cogn Cult 9 : 69— Appel M Fictional narratives cultivate just-world beliefs. J Commun 58 : 62— Appel M, Richter T Transportation and need for affect in narrative persuasion: a mediated moderation model. Med Psychol 13 : — Public Opin Q 15 : — In: Wyer JRS, editor.

Advances in Social Cognition. Paluck EL Reducing intergroup prejudice and conflict using the media: a field experiment in Rwanda. J Pers Soc Psychol 96 : — Creat Res J 17 : — Kohn N, Smith SM Partly versus completely out of your mind: effects of incubation and distraction on resolving fixation. J Creat Behav 43 : — Hist Workshop J 9 : 5— The Explicator 66 : 44— Doyle AC , The adventure of the six Napoleons.

San Francisco: Sage Publications. Preacher KJ, Curran PJ, Bauer DJ Computational tools for probing interaction effects in multiple linear regression, multilevel modeling, and latent curve analysis. J Ed Behav Stat 31 : — Saramago J Blindness. London: The Harvill Press. Saramago J Stad der Blinden. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Meulenhoff. Psychol Bull : 91— Eur J Soc Psychol 39 : — Evans MG A montecarlo study of the effects of correlated method variance in moderated multiple regression.

Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 36 : — Support Center Support Center. External link.

What Is Empathy?

Paul told me about his daughter, who works as a social worker in a large city hospital. With regards to this issue, I still feel that there are certain situations in our life when we have to really detached ourselves emotionally in order to think properly. Im glad to read your blog and i hope to learn more about you. The idea that the heart and the head cannot work together in tandem effectively is a misconception. The most effective leaders: teachers, pastors, physicians, counselors, salesmen if you will cognitively relate to a situation, while investing themselves emotionally.

The parameters of showing empathy are best maintained, I think, by reminding myself that, ultimately, it is not about me. We can feel and connect with the heart, while strategizing ways to help. Knowing we have done our best in both areas can bring the closure needed to prevent emotional enmeshment and burnout. It seems that compassionate empathy as described in your blog would require one to stay strong and focused enough to deal with a situation and would also include the ability to detect insincerity. In your experience, does it turn out that the compassionate empathetic person will have a built-in protection from being manipulated — even from those who fall under the categories of the dark triad?

If so, why does it appear that some compassionate people are prone to becoming repeat targets for narcissists, Machiavellians and even psychopaths. A response to a mis-read signal based on what the seemingly empathetic target wants to believe rather than on the true message?

Or perhaps too much energy is going in the direction of over-emotional empathy rather than true compassion? For instance, if you pair an emotional empathetic person with a narcissist. Is there a predictable pattern? I suspect there is because in spite of their predisposition to use others as a source of gratification, narcissists really are experiencing pain which the empathetic person will very likely feel.

Is there a mixed narcissistic signal that the empathetic person tries with confusion to respond to? Part genuine and part manipulative? How to deal with this without succumbing to being used and exhausted? Perhaps all the puzzle pieces are there and just need to be put together and I will stay tuned to your webpages to find out. Did Dr. Ekman elaborate this distinction in any published article? Hello Daniel! Hi , I liked the three different distinctions for empathy.

I work in the field of Conflict Resolution. Then to identify the type of response that would have given the result they wanted,and a chance to practice this new way of responding. If you could point me to anybody who has written anything about this I would be very gratefull. If one were to accept the definitions of the three forms of empathy namely Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate highlighted in this article, the question remains, if these are talents or skills? If they are skills, they can be acquired through reading and learning, but if they are talents, then is the outcome any different by just being aware of them?


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I just wonder how you can stop empathy because it seems to get to extrime. Is there a simple way to stop it? Do you have any articles about this? I am an empath and I constantly battered for being empathic esp when I dont know where its coming from and why. I have a question. Which would it fall under in relation to what someone sees on the TV. This will sounds stupid and quite sad, but i have a habit of growing very attached to certain characters on TV that have particularly distressing storylines.