Tag Archives: Empathy

Reading Books vs Watching TV

Research shows “The more a child watched television or was exposed to television, even if it was playing in the background, the weaker their understanding of their parents’ mental state. Ultimately, if the television was on in the vicinity of the child, it impaired their theory of mind, which is defined as the ability to recognize their own and another person’s beliefs, intents, desires, and knowledge.”

…”watching too much TV could actually alter the composition of the human brain.  […] the more time spent in front of the TV, the thicker the frontal lobe region of their brains developed. It’s the same area that is known to lower language processing and communication, which researchers suspect is also why [test subjects] had a lower verbal IQ. But that wasn’t all; the hypothalamus, septum, sensory motor region, and visual cortex were all enlarged — these are where emotional responses, arousal, aggression, and vision are processed.”

Meanwhile, “aside from pleasure and practicality, reading [books]  strengthens the neural pathways like any muscle in your body. Even at a young age, children who are read to by their parents develop five enhanced reading skills, which include an advanced vocabulary, word recognition in spoken words, ability to connect written letters to spoken sounds, reading comprehension, and the fluency to read text accurately and quickly.”

More on TV watching and the benefits of Reading Books:

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Literature Can Bind a Split Nation

The “lack of meaningful connections among citizens is a complex problem. It contributes to the crippling partisanship”. …

“If the root of our problems … is a breakdown in communication and connection, literature has some incredibly powerful tools to help.” …

“learning how to engage with literature and, by extension, with others, is a very practical, widely-applicable skill.” …

“Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender or personality type. … Great literature allows one to think and feel from within how other cultures think and feel”.

“It’s not necessarily about the specific content of what you read; it’s the underlying practice of putting yourself inside another person’s head, inhabiting a narrative that is not your own, and considering perspectives that you do not share. Time spent actually exercising these skills and improving your capacity to connect and empathize with people – actually reading literature – is time well spent. It’s a concrete step to making you a more effective leader, better positioned to address the crises in our country today and cross the fault lines that have distanced us from each other.

Reading a book won’t singlehandedly bring about the end of American conflict – but it may make you better equipped to start.”

From, and read more: blog.acton.org/archives/80087-literature-empathy-and-american-prosperity.html

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Storytelling Hightens Moral Reasoning

Intriguing new evidence “shows a positive correlation between literacy and moral reasoning, most particularly between reading fiction and being able to take the perspective of others. Perspective-taking in novels requires a matrices-like rotation of relational positions combined with an understanding of what it would feel like if X happened to you, even though the “you” in this case is a character in the novel.”

“In a 2011 study, for example, the Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson and his team scanned the brain of a woman while she told a story out loud that the scientists recorded and subsequently played back for other subjects while their brains were being scanned. When the reader’s emotional brain region called the insula lit up during a certain portion of the story, so too did the listeners’ insulas; when the woman’s frontal cortex became active during a different part of the story, the same region in listeners’ brains was also activated. It’s almost as if the fictional story synchronized the reader’s and listeners’ brains.”

“This experiment is important because it nails down the direction of the causal arrow from reading literary fiction to perspective taking, eliminating the objection that perhaps people who are interested in and good at interpreting the mental states of others just happen to be people who read novels.”

From: reason.com/archives/2015/02/17/are-we-becoming-morally-smarte

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Readers of Literary Fiction are better at Mind-Reading

“When we read a thrilling-but-predictable bestseller, “the text sort of grabs us and takes us on a roller-coaster ride,” “and we all sort of experience the same thing.” Literature, on the other hand, gives the reader a lot more responsibility. Its imaginary worlds are full of characters with confusing or unexplained motivations. There are no reliable instructions about whom to trust or how to feel.”

Researchers suspect “that the skills we use to navigate these ambiguous fictional worlds serve us well in real life. In particular” they “surmised that they enhance our so-called theory of mind. That’s the ability to intuit someone else’s mental state—to know, for example, that when someone raises their hand toward us, they’re trying to give us a high-five rather than slap us. It’s closely related to empathy, the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others.”

“Increasing evidence supports the relationship between reading fiction and theory of mind. But much of this evidence is based on correlations: Self-reported avid readers or those familiar with fiction also tend to perform better on certain tests of empathy, for example.”

From: news.sciencemag.org

The Roots of Empathy, Compassion, and Ethical Behavior: Books

“it is this capacity to make up stories that makes us act morally. When we tell and hear stories about others, we discover an impulse to seek to understand their behavior. Instead of simply ascribing universal negative traits to describe behavior that we find troubling in others, we seek to describe actions using impulses that we understand. For example, instead of assuming that someone who cuts in traffic is unforgivably self-absorbed, the person who fills his or her life with stories will imagine that said traffic-cutter is rushing to the hospital. …

Stories are so important to the way that we relate to each other socially. They teach us to reconsider preconceptions and try on new perspectives. They teach us to imagine the stories behind the behavior we see in the world. They teach us compassion.”

More: m.dukechronicle.com

The best Christmas gift

“Middle-class America has been duped. For decades we have been told that the notion of higher education is suspect and bad. Why? Because an uneducated citizenry will believe anything their leaders say, lies and all. Politicians and industrialists rely on the ignorance of the populace to fund and fight their wars, and to run their factories. As philanthropist John D. Rockefeller is reputed to have once said, “I want a nation of workers, not a nation of thinkers.” …

Materialism has become part of the problem. Money is our new God. There is little joy in reading books and learning.”

From: http://www.times-standard.com/guest_opinion/ci_22156902/how-dumb-have-we-become

Declining readership is as troubling as lack of education. Education, however, does not necessarily make one a better person. An uneducated person may follow every demagogue, but one who does not read books is on the path to becoming a sociopath: Studies show reading books builds empathy, and empathy leads to compassionate society. So, dear friends, you can do plenty good by gifting a book this holiday season…

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Why we read

“Literature has always been a catalyst through which humans can find humor, adventure, or an escape from their everyday. However, I would argue that entertainment is not the most important role of literature, either. These two functions can be found in other forms of media as well. Literature holds no advantage over film or art in this case, except perhaps to contain a greater amount of information in one place.

What, then, is the purpose in reading? What advantage does it give us, if not to entertain, educate, or explore? What abilities does the act of reading print words in a paper novel grant us above any other medium?

Reading gives us a window into another’s mind, in a way that cannot be duplicated in another medium. Whether it is greater than other mediums, such as art or film, is perhaps a matter of opinion. However, it’s clear that literature offers an experience of empathy matchless in its sincerity.”

More: http://www.theracquet.net/mobile/features/why-read-1.2930145

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Literature helps you discover your identity

“Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories to recall characters and plot details. In fact, […] neuroscientists have found plenty of proof that reading fiction stimulates all sorts of cognitive areas—not just language regions but also those responsible for coordinating movement and interpreting smells.

Because literary books “are” so mentally invigorating, and require such engagement, they make us smarter than other kinds of reading material, as a 2009 University of Santa Barbara indicated. Researchers found that subjects who read Kafka’s “The Country Doctor”—which includes feverish hallucinations from the narrator and surreal elements—performed better on a subsequent learning task than a control group that read a straightforward summary of the story.

Literature doesn’t just make us smarter, however; it makes us “us”, shaping our consciences and our identities. Strong narratives […] help us develop empathy. […] individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them, and see the world from their perspective […]

With empathy comes self-awareness, of course. By discovering affinities between ourselves and characters we never imagined we’d be able to comprehend (like the accused murderer Dimitri Karamazov), we better understand who we are personally and politically; what we want to change; what we care about defending.”

More: http://m.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/03/a-slow-books-manifesto/254884/

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Reading fiction creates better society

“200 subjects read a five-page fictional short story written specifically for the experiment, designed to elicit compassionate feelings for the characters and model pro-social behavior. The subjects then participated in exercises to measure the impact of the reading.

Based on the results of the post-reading exercises, Johnson concluded that the more immersed the readers were in the story, the more empathy they felt for the characters. In addition, he found that the heightened empathy led to an enhanced ability to perceive subtle emotional expressions such as fear or happiness. Individuals who experienced higher levels of empathy were also nearly twice as likely to engage in pro-social, or helpful, behavior as individuals experiencing low levels of empathy.

“An interesting component is that it really seemed to be a lot about the imagery and visualizing the face of the main character and the events they experienced,” said Johnson. “Those who experienced more inherent imagery were more likely to develop empathy for the characters and be more helpful.”

More: http://news.blogs.wlu.edu/2012/02/21/washington-and-lee-professor-finds-that-reading-fiction-leads-to-empathy-helpful-behavior/

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Reading novels makes you a better person

“Jane Smiley, in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, claims for novels an important role as an engine for change. She writes: “When I have read a long novel, when I have entered systematically into a sensibility that is alien to mine, when I have become interested in another person because he is interesting, not because he is privileged or great, there is a possibility that at the end that I will be a degree less self-centered …”

When we read, we also encounter our own reactions and prejudices, and our hopes and fears, and perhaps find ourselves a little changed for the better.”

More: http://katesidley.bookslive.co.za/blog/2012/02/13/read-yourself-fabulous/

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