We have updated our cookie policy to reflect recent changes in the UK/EU law concerning the use of cookies and tracking technologies. We use cookies on this website (including the page you are currently viewing) to ensure that the site functions smoothly and to help us understand how we can improve it. If you continue without changing your settings, you are agreeing to receive all cookies from the SLA website.

or view our cookie policy to find out more

Show Menu | Show Sidebar (Login/Search)

SLA BlogRSS Feed RSS

Development and Discussion 2019 3: Empathy and reading

The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that I promised a blog each week in January, and yet, last Monday - no blog. Apologies! Here it is, and my CE blog will follow later this week. This D&D blog is a brilliant piece from Miranda McKearney on empathy. 

Empathy is a crucial skill for young people to develop. Without it, they will struggle to form the relationships they need in order to thrive. With it, they will go on to be great citizens, co-workers, parents. But the rising generation is growing up in a society with a huge empathy deficit, marked by an increasingly divisive public discourse and the highest levels of hate crimes since records began.

We need a new empathy movement! And excitingly, librarians can play a central role because scientific evidence shows that books can be a powerful empathy-building tool. EmpathyLab (www.empathylab.uk) offers a range of resources which focus specifically on harnessing this power. Do look out for

  • the just-launched 2019 Read For Empathy Guides www.empathylab.uk/read-for-empathy-guide.  Having listened to secondary schools, these now include a trial collection for 11-16 year olds, alongside thirty books for 4-11 year olds.

  • Our new CPD training. The first on February 14, in Cambridge goo.gl/D7tH3M

  • Empathy Day on June 11 – sign up to the newsletter at www.empathylab.uk to receive tailored information on resources. Flyer with details here goo.gl/95NYeV

Reading builds empathy 

We’re not born with a fixed empathy quotient – our brains are plastic and it’s a skill 98% of us can learn (the 2% being socio-paths).In the last few years, scientists have been developing a  body of research using MRI scans and other techniques . This shows that reading builds our social and emotional skills, especially empathy.  The human brain reacts to fictional worlds as if they were real, and this makes stories a wonderful medium for entering into other people’s thoughts and feelings. The scientists say that as we read, we feel genuinely part of the story, and the empathic emotions we feel for characters developsthe same sort of sensitivity towards real people in real life. 

Some researchers compare fiction reading to flight simulators where you practice improving your flying skills – it is a "simulation of social worlds," and helps us practice our social skills.

Which books are good for empathy work?

EmpathyLab has developed a set of criteria for empathy-boosting books:

  • Powerful characters you care about, whose emotions you feel and which challenge and expand the reader’s own emotional understanding

  • Builds perspective taking – e.g through different characters’ points of view

  • Gives the reader real insight into other people’s lives and experiences

  • Builds empathy for people in challenging circumstances (e.g. disability, migration, bereavement)

  • Deepens understanding of human experience at other times in history

  • Can help expand young people’s emotional vocabulary/ recognition of emotions

  • Motivates the reader to put empathy into action

 

The elements of empathy, and the implications for schools and libraries

Empathy is a crucial skill for young people to develop. Without it, they will struggle to form the relationships they need in order to thrive. With it, they will go on to be great citizens, co-workers, parents. But the rising generation is growing up in a society with a huge empathy deficit, marked by an increasingly divisive public discourse and the highest levels of hate crimes since records began.

 

The elements of empathy, and the implications for schools and libraries

Empathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empathy is made up of three very distinctive elements. Humans bring all these elements into play, in different combinations at different times.  EmpathyLab uses the following framework to describe the elements of empathy.

  • Affective - the feeling part of empathy. This is where we literally resonate with someone else’s feelings, for example feeling upset when someone else is upset. We do this automatically, and very early in life - babies often cry when another baby cries. 
  • Cognitive - the thinking part of empathy. This is where we use our reason and imagination to work out how someone else feels, including being able to name emotions and get clues from facial expressions, body language and tone of voice.
  • Empathic concern - the acting part of empathy, our drive to help others. Research shows this plays a key role in our sense of social justice, and is a powerful motivator for wanting to help someone else, a force for social change.

 

It is vital that educators – teachers and librarians - understand these different elements, in order to develop the right strategies.

  • Affective empathy: since this happens naturally and automatically, we can help young people recognise that it is happening, and explore the empathetic emotions they are feeling.
  • Cognitive empathy: we all need space to use our reason and imagination to try to work out how someone might be thinking and feeling, and why.  The opportunity and encouragement to reflect through the safe distance of literature is a great way to do this.
  • Empathic concern: we can create pathways for young people to put empathy into action and help those they feel empathic concern towards.  Children who have developed a deep empathic understanding of others can become powerfully active citizens, and books can often act as a powerful springboard – for instance Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere which was researched in a Syrian refugee camp.

Five empathy-boosting book recommendations

Here are five of my favorites from this year’s Read For Empathy collection, chosen by our expert panel of judges http://www.empathylab.uk/read-for-empathy-guide-2019-selection-panel

PRIMARY

  • The Day War Came, Nicola Davies, Illustrator Rebecca Cobb, Walker Books:  Davies’ wonderful storytelling opens up powerful insights into how it might feel to be a child escaping from war and trying to find a new home – a book that provokes solidarity, action and tears.
  • Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson, Puffin: a feelings-packed graphic novel about Astrid taking on the challenge of roller-skate derbys. Fun, easy read as you journey with her through life’s mistakes and difficult choices. Great on relationships.

SECONDARY

  • Rising Stars, Ruth Awolola, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Abigail Cook, Jay Hulme, Amina Jama, Otter-Barry Books: a really vibrant poetry anthology in which five young BAME poets share experiences of community, identity, family… Afro hair and parakeets. Deep yet very accessible, with different voices and perspectives illuminating how others feel. Great poems - great new writers - great themes.
  • The Pavee and the Buffer Girl, Siobhan Dowd, Illustrator Emma Shoard , The Bucket List, Barrington Stokes: very few books offer insights into traveller communities and this does it superbly. Through an unfolding boy/girl relationship, we experience the perspectives of both the resident community and the travellers (Pavees), feeling the tensions and prejudice. A superb book.
  • Mike, Andrew Norris, David Fickling Books: such a clever, yet enormously accessible book, exploring  the journey Mike makes with a family convinced he’ll become a tennis star. About the emotional challenges in the quest to find out who you truly are, with an exceptionally well-developed central character - to the extent that there are two of him.
Error no. 216 occurred.