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The European Journal of Communication Research

Ed. by Averbeck-Lietz, Stefanie / d'Haenens, Leen

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Volume 34, Issue 4 (Jan 2009)


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

Raymond A. Mar
  • Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at York University, 4700 Keele St., Toronto, ON, Canada M3J 1P3. E-mail:
/ Keith Oatley
  • Professor Emeritus in the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology at the University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street W., Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 1V6. E-mail:
/ Jordan B. Peterson
  • Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, 100 St. George St., Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3G3. E-mail:
Published Online: 2009-12-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/COMM.2009.025


Readers of fiction tend to have better abilities of empathy and theory of mind (Mar et al., Journal of Personality 74: 1047–1078, 2006). We present a study designed to replicate this finding, rule out one possible explanation, and extend the assessment of social outcomes. In order to rule out the role of personality, we first identified Openness as the most consistent correlate. This trait was then statistically controlled for, along with two other important individual differences: the tendency to be drawn into stories and gender. Even after accounting for these variables, fiction exposure still predicted performance on an empathy task. Extending these results, we also found that exposure to fiction was positively correlated with social support. Exposure to nonfiction, in contrast, was associated with loneliness, and negatively related to social support.

Keywords:: empathy; reading; narrative; depression; big five personality; social support

About the article

Published Online: 2009-12-14

Published in Print: 2009-12-01

Citation Information: Communications, ISSN (Online) 1613-4087, ISSN (Print) 0341-2059, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/COMM.2009.025.

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Raymond A. Mar and Marina Rain
Scientific Studies of Reading, 2015, Page 1
Jessica E. Black and Jennifer L. Barnes
Poetics, 2015, Volume 52, Page 32
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Cognition and Instruction, 2015, Volume 33, Number 2, Page 125
Erin McTigue, April Douglass, Katherine L. Wright, Tracey S. Hodges, and Amanda D. Franks
The Reading Teacher, 2015, Volume 69, Number 1, Page 91
Theanna Bischoff and Joan Peskin
Scientific Study of Literature, 2014, Volume 4, Number 2, Page 125
Benjamin K. Johnson, David R. Ewoldsen, and Michael D. Slater
Media Psychology, 2015, Volume 18, Number 2, Page 196
Íris Susana Pires Pereira and Ângela Campos
Changing English, 2014, Volume 21, Number 4, Page 359
Marina Rain and Raymond A. Mar
Empirical Studies of the Arts, 2014, Volume 32, Number 1, Page 93
Keith Oatley and P.N. Johnson-Laird
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2014, Volume 18, Number 3, Page 134
Mei Tan and Elena L. Grigorenko
Learning and Individual Differences, 2013, Volume 28, Page 177
Markus Appel and Barbara Malečkar
Human Communication Research, 2012, Volume 38, Number 4, Page 459
Raymond A. Mar, Keith Oatley, Maja Djikic, and Justin Mullin
Cognition & Emotion, 2011, Volume 25, Number 5, Page 818
Raymond A. Mar
Annual Review of Psychology, 2011, Volume 62, Number 1, Page 103

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