Browsing by Organization "Department of Social Psychology, University of Helsinki"

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  • Sklar, Howard (2008)
    "The Art of Sympathy: Forms of Moral and Emotional Persuasion" in Fiction is an interdisciplinary study that looks closely at the ways that stories evoke sympathy, and the significance of this emotion for the development of moral attitudes and awareness. By linking readers' emotional responses to fiction with the potential impact of such responses on "the moral imagination," the study builds on empirical research conducted by literary scholars and psychologists into the emotional effects of reading fiction, as well as social psychological research into the connections between empathy/sympathy and moral development. I first investigate the dynamics of readers beliefs regarding characters in fictional narratives, and the nature of the emotions that they may experience as a result of those beliefs. The analysis demonstrates that there are important similarities between real emotions and emotions generated by fiction. Recognizing these similarities, I claim, can help us to conceptualize the nature of sympathetic responses to fictional characters. Building on these assertions, I then draw on research from social psychology and philosophy to develop a comprehensive definition of sympathy and to clarify the ways in which sympathy operates, both in people s daily lives and in readers sympathetic responses to fictional characters. Having established this definition and delineated its practical implications, I then examine how particular stories, through a variety of narrative techniques, persuade readers to feel sympathy for characters who are unsympathetic in certain ways. In order to verify my claims about the impact of these stories on readers emotions, I also review the results of tests that I conducted with nearly 200 adolescent readers. Through these tests, which were constructed and scored according to methods prevalent in social psychological research, it was determined that a majority of readers felt sympathy for the protagonists in two of the stories included in the study. These results were combined with data from an additional test, a standard measure of empathy and sympathy in the field of social psychology. The cross-tabulation of these results suggests that there was not a strong connection between readers responses and their general tendencies to feel sympathy for others. This finding would appear to support my hypotheses regarding the sympathetic persuasiveness of the stories in question. In light of these results, finally, I consider the potential contribution that fiction can make to adolescent emotional and moral development and the implications of that potential for future language arts curricula in the schools. In particular, I suggest the pedagogical importance of providing adolescents with opportunities to engage with the lives of fictional characters, and especially to experience feelings of sympathy for individuals towards whom they ordinarily might feel aversion.