8 Transportation and empathy
So how does transportation relate to empathy (i.e. the first psychological test you did in this course)? To return to the initial questions you answered on the interpersonal reactivity index you might expect that transportation may relate strongly to the fantasy scale (which measured the degree to which you imaginatively inhabit book characters). This has been found to be the case in prior research (e.g. Hall, 2011) which has shown that scores on the fantasy scale and transportation correlated when measuring people’s absorption into films.
What you might not have expected is that there appear to be strong links between the degree to which people are transported into a text and the degree of empathy they feel after finishing reading towards other people. In such research, high levels of transportation have been found to lead to increased empathic responding to others (e.g. Bal and Veltkamp, 2013; Walkington, Ashton Wigman and Bowles, 2020) and this holds true even if the people read about are ‘baddies’. In effect, therefore, the act of reading, and being transported into the story, may actually improve our levels of empathy towards others.