Thoughts on Empathy

The other day, I was having a discussion with my mom, as we often do, about how our weeks had been going.  We both noted that, disappointingly, we had been having experiences with people who seemed to be lacking in their ability to empathize.  She mentioned an article that she had recently read about how research shows that an overall decline in reading is a possible contributor in the decrease of people’s ability to empathize.  I thought that this was very interesting and decided I wanted to do some research of my own.  So I got to reading some articles and research studies on the topic and found that there could be some truth to this hypothesis.  In summary, without going into a lot of technical information about neurology and how the human brain functions, research has found that by reading books (particularly fiction), people are able to learn and improve their ability to empathize.  Our brain has a very comparable reaction to reading something as it would if we were going through the experiences ourselves.  Along with this, reading has been shown to be the one true way we are actually able to experience the feelings and thoughts of others.  This has been shown to be particularly relevant in the minds of preschoolers, where a correlation has been indicated between the amount of stories read to them and their ability to understand the intentions and emotions of others.

 Another study done at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor show that almost 75% of students today rate themselves as being less empathetic than students did 30 years ago.  Adding that to the fact that the number of adults who read for leisure has dipped below 50% for the first time in the past ten years, particularly in college age individuals.

Image credits 1  2  3  4  5  6

 As someone in the heathcare field, I know as well as anyone that research studies can be skewed in any number of ways and can often be unreliable.  I also realize that as a great lover of books and reading, my opinion may be biased.  But with the number of studies all pointing in the same direction, it definitely gives us something to think about.

What do ya’ll think?  Do you think that reading could help teach us all to be a little more empathetic?








Some articles sourced include:

~ Your Brain On Fiction

~ What Me Care? Young Are Less Empathetic

~ Is Less Reading Making Americans Less Empathetic?

Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes

  1. C-Cat

    Sounds like a very good possibility, that and crappy parenting, which go hand in hand

  2. Lindsey Regan Thorne @ be pretty

    Such an inspiring post, sweet Megs! Reading is the cure to so many things… it’s something that I need to do more of!

  3. Stephanie G

    Yes, reading should help. That and I don’t think children should be taught fire and brimstone when being taught about God and Jesus. They should be taught that Both are forgiving, loving and are the best examples of empathy.

  4. Taylor

    Very interesting thought. I know taht I am happier when I’m in a book and on a journey. I think it’s definitely a possibility along with the other suggestions above. Kids today are spoiled and spend too much time with electronics. I find if I turn the TV and get to reading to just listening to music, i feel so much better and don’t feel like my day was a complete waste.

  5. Blair Scheepers

    My iPad is to blame for my lack of reading these days. I get sucked into stupid games like Words with Friends and Draw Something. Knowing reading would help my spelling on Words, I still forgo it for the game. However, I make sure to read 3 books to Ava every night before bed because I want her to love books as much as I do. In hopes she remember the smell of the books and the time on my lap in the rocking chair when she gets older.

    Getting lost in a story is one of the best things in life. I normally cry at the end of a good book or series because it’s over and I know I will miss the characters.

    Great post Megan!!

  6. Jean Wilks

    Megan, I loved your thoughts and I agree with you! I am a retired teacher and I love my books so much. I read some every day and I have a short daily devotion with my husband before we eat our breakfast every morning. Then we read the paper before we start our normal duties of the day. I am reading Tim Tebow, Through My Eyes and The Inspirational Writings of Norman Vincent Peale. Yes, I believe that people who read are more loving and more kind to other people on a daily basis. Yes, I love to read and I love my books too.
    Thanks for a good posting.

  7. Megan

    Thanks everyone. This research has made me quite thoughtful about the way books impact me. I was thinking about what Blair and Taylor said and I agree. When I am reading a book, I get very attached to the characters and then I am sad when it is over. I feel much less this way about movies and tv. I feel a sense of loss when I finish with a book I love. Very interesting.

  8. Beth

    This makes me SO sad, as an avid reader myself. But it is great information, and a truly intriguing study idea. Does the fact that blogging seems to be making a rise (and you do have to READ most blogs) maybe help get ‘us’ all back on track, you think? I hope so. But either way, I absolutely loved this post, especially the awesome pictures, and you’ve inspired me to go read a book tonight. Thank you dear!

  9. Drew {Coral Cafe}

    ABSOLUTELY!! I think reading can assist you in so many areas of your life! Giving you a broader perspective, more detail about life and as you said, more empathy. I just finished the Hunger Games and can’t wait to dive into the next one! Now THAT’S a book to be empathetic about!
    We should start a book club! 😉

  10. Drew {Coral Cafe}

    Ps…That last pic of the little boy reading is beyond preciousness!!

  11. Marilyn

    Spread the word: All you parents and parents to be read with your babies and grandbabies when they are still infants. Make it fun! Put away those ipads!