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No sidestepping this one: Fiction teaches empathy


Maybe you’ve had to do that modern-day dance, the sidewalk sidestep, to avoid the person barrelling toward you, gaze firmly lowered to their smartphone. Oblivious that you’ve taken the trouble not to smash into them, they just keep on staring at their phone screen. They may be frowning at news they don’t like, or smiling in delight at some compliment or salacious gossip.

They’re not all that different from the absent-minded bookworms of yore who walked around, gaze lowered on the open novel they were carrying. Or are they?

According to Arts.Mic, there’s a world of difference between fiction readers and other types of readers (nonfiction, texts, emails). In learning about characters’ lives, problems, conflicts and solutions, fiction readers come to empathize with other people—all kinds of other people, in all kinds of places.

In his Arts.Mic article, Gabe Bergado reports on an Emory University study: “ … researchers found heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. The researchers also found increased connectivity in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself scoring a touchdown while playing football, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling.”


About melaniejackson

Scottish-born and mystery-minded, Melanie Jackson is the author of children's and y/a suspensers published by Orca Books. Melanie is writing this blog to share news, ideas and research on encouraging kids to read. The key is no mystery, she believes. It's all in the story.

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