Novels & Human Rights Part 5: Mechanics of Reading and Empathy

The whole series of posts, Novels & Human Rights, is worth reading, but this one — wow!

Hannah Reads Books

In planning my paper, it was important to me that I find out if my thesis was plausible in the real world. Surely someone had studied empathy, and/or the real-life effects of reading? Yes! Science FTW! (More info/previous posts here.)

Empathy and the Novel cover Suzanne KeenEnglish professor Suzanne Keen’s Empathy and the Novel summarizes the major research to 2007. Researchers don’t yet understand empathy comprehensively, but have identified physical and neurological components as well as cognitive aspects. When a person is in pain, fMRI machines show their limbic systems activating – an emotional and motivational response. When watching loved ones in pain, the affective areas of the limbic system engage without receiving stimuli from the sensory cortex. Essentially, the viewer’s brain responds as if it had experienced a similar pain. Psychologist Paul Ekman believes that reading about a sensation causes a similar process to occur; the brain treats concepts as if they were happening in…

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About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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