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Coplan, Amy, , . Empathic engagement with narrative fictions
2004, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62 (2):141-152.
Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: There is still little consensus among scholars regarding how best to characterize the relationship between readers of fictional narratives and the characters in those narratives. Part of the problem is that many of the explanatory concepts used in the debate – concepts like identification and empathy – are somewhat vague or ambiguous. In this article, I consider some recent relevant empirical research on text processing and narrative comprehension and argue for a pluralist account of character engagement, in which empathy plays an important role. In Section I, I review several empirical studies that strongly suggest that readers often adopt the perspective of one or more of the characters in fictional narratives. In Section II, I turn to the concept of empathy and provide an explanation of empathy based on models and research in empirical psychology. I focus in particular on self-other differentiation, a critical feature of empathy that has been underemphasized in the literature. Next I discuss two psychological phenomena that are closely related to empathy and often confused or conflated with it: emotional contagion and sympathy. In the final section of the paper, I employ the account of empathy developed in Section II to address Noel Carroll’s objections to the view that readers typically empathize with fictional characters.

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