Cailon Nicoson | Between a Rock and a Hard Place: How Transportation into Stories Representing Protagonist’s Criminal Behavior Affects Reader’s Empathy

Previous research has found that reading fictional stories can increase empathy in individuals who read it (Bal & Vetkamp, 2013; Dodell-Feder & Tamir, 2018; Kaufman & Libby, 2012; Stansfield & Bune, 2014). One important factor that contributes to fiction’s potential empathy-teaching effect is the concept of transportation; transportation is the reader’s ability to “transport” themselves into the story, particularly in the shoes of the protagonist, to better understand how they themselves would react in the character’s situations (Bal & Vetkamp, 2012). The current study analyzed the effect transportation into a story in which the protagonist engaged in a criminal act (e.g., substance abuse and theft) could have on the reader. Participants were asked to read two texts each; one arranged as a list of facts and the second being an emotionally-charged, third-person perspective of either the protagonist’s engagement in substance abuse or theft. One group received one compilation of facts regarding the protagonist’s engagement in either substance abuse or theft and one emotionally-charged account of the protagonist’s engagement in the offense not represented in the first story. 

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kristin Ritchey and Dr. Thomas Holtgraves

Department of Psychological Sciences and Criminal Justice/Criminology


Honors College