Between a rock and a hard place: how transportation into stories representing protagonist's criminal behavior affects reader's empathy

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Nicoson, Cailon
Ritchey, Kristin
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Thesis (B.?)
Honors College
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Previous research has found that reading fictional stories can increase empathy in individuals who read it (Bal & Vetkamp, 2013; Dodell-Feder & Tamir, 2018; Kaufman & Libby, 2012; Stansfield & Bune, 2014). One important factor that contributes to fiction’s potential empathyteaching effect is the concept of transportation; transportation is the reader’s ability to “transport” themselves into the story, particularly in the shoes of the protagonist, to better understand how they themselves would react in the character’s situations (Bal & Vetkamp, 2012). The current study analyzed the effect transportation into a story in which the protagonist engaged in a criminal act (e.g., substance abuse and theft) could have on the reader. Participants were asked to read two texts each; one arranged as a report and the second being a story of either the protagonist’s engagement in substance abuse or theft. One group received a report-styled text regarding the protagonist’s engagement in either substance abuse or theft and one story-styled text of the protagonist’s engagement in the offense not represented in the first text. Participants’ empathy was measured with eight Likert-scale questions. Participants were predicted to show more empathy for the characters portrayed in the emotional texts than the non-emotional texts, regardless of the crime committed, due to the increased transportation that should occur with the emotional text.