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"Effects of literature on empathy and self-reflection: A theoretical-empirical framework"

A guest lecture by Frank Hakemulder, Utrecht University.

Info about event


Monday 28 April 2014,  at 15:00 - 16:00


IMC, Jens Chr. Skous Vej 4, building 1.483, room 331


Interacting Minds Centre

Frank Hakemulder, Utrecht University: 


Various scholars have made claims about literature¹s potential to evoke

empathy and self-reflection, which would eventually lead to more pro-social behavior.

From the research it appears there is some evidence that might indicate these types of “ethical” effects of literary imagination. However, while narrative texts seem more effective in evoking empathy than expository texts, thus far, there is little evidence for an effect particular to literary texts. Furthermore, there is little indication that literary texts will trigger more thoughts than non-literary texts, although the reflection that is triggered may be of a different nature, depending on reader experience. The available research suggests a number of crucial factors that influence the relation between reading and empathy as well as reflection.

Synthesizing other approaches in the field, the present article proposes a multifactor model of literary reading, revealing the many remaining questions, and offering a framework for a future research agenda.


Frank Hakemulder has a background is in Literary Studies. He conducted his Ph.D.-research (1998) at the department of Literary Studies at Utrecht

University (The Netherlands) and the Department of Psychology at the

University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, US). Since then he specialized

in the psychology of literature, focusing on the effects of reading

literary texts on outgroup attitudes and moral self-concept. He currently

leads a national research project in The Netherlands, entitled ³Varieties

of Absorption in Narrative, and Aesthetic Experiences: A Comparative Study of Responses to Literature and Film.² This Summer he starts a new project entitled "Uses of Literary Narrative Fiction in Social Contexts: Changes in Self and Social Perceptions." He is President of the International

Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media and Associate

Editor of the journal Scientific Study of Literature.