Chapter 4 — CLaims & Ratings

Overall: This chapter discusses the role of narrative arts in building empathy. Compared to contact theory, there are relatively few well-controlled studies assessing the impact of the arts on our empathy. Claims in this chapter receive a low score based not on negative findings, but rather on a lack of systematic replication. That said, an increasing number of studies—including a recent meta-analysis—provide emerging evidence for the effects of storytelling on empathy. More research in this domain will help confirm these findings.

Claim 4.1: Theater grows empathy.
Rating: 3
Despite a few well-conducted studies with promising findings, other work in this domain often a) relies on self-report; b) leads to no significant objective improvements; or c) has no control group. More well-designed, empirical work is needed to examine the extent to which theater practices grow empathy.

Claim 4.2: Literature grows empathy.
Rating: 4
There are several robust, experimental studies on this topic in support of this claim, including a thorough meta-analysis that includes both published and unpublished studies on this topic. However, a large number of studies on this topic are correlational and thus cannot determine whether literature grows empathy or those who are more empathetic are drawn to reading literature, and there have also been a few failed replications of prominent studies in support of this claim.

Claim 4.3: Reading literature can reduce criminal offenses
Rating: 1
Much research exists showing the benefits of education for incarcerated individuals, and there are many anecdotal reports of the benefits of bibliotherapy (that is, reading literature) for prison populations. However, outside of the evaluation of Changing Lives Through Literature itself, there are almost no experimental tests of the benefit of reading literature on the outcome of criminal recidivism.

Claim 4.4: Narrative art can reduce intergroup conflict.
Rating: 4
While the idea of using narrative art (including storytelling, literature, radio, and television) to reduce intergroup conflict has been long discussed in the humanities, only recently has this idea been subject to experimental assessment. These initial findings suggest that narrative art leads to increased perspective taking and reduced out-group prejudice to reduce conflict, but more work in this area is warranted.