Reading affects empathy? Or positive publication bias?

OK I can’t write something that isn’t honest+sour grapes.  So there.  Nobody, certainly not Science, will publish replications of this study.  If authors had found no effects, or reverse effects, no one would have published.  Important to remember that.  My current research project in Burkina Faso looks at effects of reading fiction (popular, because barely literate sixth-grade readers cannot read French translation of Dostoevsky, or Chekhov, FYI/IMHO/WTF/LOL, and because Ahmadou Kourouma… well… he’s pretty hard, and also expensive…) on youth 15-24, having access to books over a long period of time (6 months, and not reading for 3 minutes) and on “real” behavior (in person experimental games) rather than just questionnaires.  I do not know the outcomes of my research yet, but I’d be quite surprised if there is a very large effect, and that makes me really skeptical of these short-term low stakes findings… Great for this “field” though!

“It’s a really important result,” said Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist who has written extensively about human intelligence, and who was not involved in the research. “That they would have subjects read for three to five minutes and that they would get these results is astonishing.”

Dr. Humphrey, an emeritus professor at Darwin College, Cambridge, said, “I would have thought reading in general” would make people more empathetic and understanding. “But to separate off literary fiction, and to demonstrate that it has different effects from the other forms of reading is remarkable. I think it’s going to generate a lot more research and I hope it’s going to generate some discussion in education.”

To find a broader pool of research subjects than the college students who typically participate, the researchers used Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk service, where people sign up to earn money for completing small jobs. Between 78 and 456 people, ranging in age from 18 to 75, were recruited for each experiment and paid $2 or $3 each.

via I Know How You’re Feeling, I Read Chekhov – NYTimes.com.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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