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