Two such studies have now been performed by people who are not connected with our group. One study was by Dan Johnson (which we reported in OnFiction on 22 November 2011, click here). Now a second study has been performed by Matthis Bal and Martijn Veltkamp (2013).
Bal and Veltkamp put together the idea of fiction as social simulation with Green’s (2004) idea of transportation as an indication of people’s engagement in stories. In their first experiment, Bal and Veltkamp had 66 participants read either a Sherlock Holmes story, “The adventure of the six Napoleons” by Arthur Conan Doyle, or a selection of the same length from a newspaper about riots in Libya and a disaster in Japan. Transportation into the text was measured by three items prompted by Busselle and Bilandzic’s (2008) account of engagement in stories: “The story affected me emotionally,” “During the reading of the text, when a main character succeeded I felt happy, and when they suffered in some way, I felt sad,” and “I felt sorry for some of the characters in the text.” Empathy was measured just before reading the text (Time 1), directly after reading (Time 2), and one week later (Time 3), by the Empathetic Concern scale of Davis (1983). In a second experiment, 97 participants followed same procedure except that they read either a fictional text, a chapter from José Saramago’s Blindness, or a non-fictional text which was of extracts from a newspaper.
The results of the first experiment were that people who were high in transportation into the Sherlock Holmes story increased their empathy from Time 1 to Time 3, but there was no significant change in empathy in those who read the newspaper extracts. In the second experiment, people who were high in transportation into the story by Saramago increased their empathy somewhat from Time 1 to Time 3 but the increase was not significant, while people who were high in transportation into the newspaper extracts significantly decreased their empathy from Time 1 to Time 3. In both experiments, people who read the fictional stories but were not transported into them showed decreased empathy from Time 1 to Time 3. The authors suggest that this was because without transportation into a story readers became frustrated and disengaged.
One of the virtues of Bal and Veltkamp’s paper is the use of real literary examples for people to read. We are still some way from being able to say what attributes of stories invite the most transportation, or prompt the strongest changes in empathy, but such questions now seem as if they may soon be answerable.
Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (2013). How does fiction reading influence empathy? An experimental investigation on the role of emotional transportation. PLoS One.
Busselle, R., & Bilandzic, H. (2008). Fictionality and perceived realism in experiencing stories: A model of narrative comprehension and engagement. Communication Theory, 18, 255-280.
Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113-126.
Green, M. C. (2004). Transportation into narrative worlds: The role of prior knowledge and perceived realism. Discourse Processes, 38, 247-266.
Johnson, D. R. (2012). Transportation into a story increases empathy, prosocial behavior, and perceptual bias toward fearful expressions. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 150-155.
Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Hirsh, J., dela Paz, J., & Peterson, J. B. (2006). Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 694-712.
Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., & Peterson, J. B. (2009). Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes. Communications: The European Journal of Communication, 34, 407-428.
Image: Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget (1904), from Wikipedia