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Purpose – This chapter details the collaborative investigation of a neuroscientist and a literature scholar into whether reading literature increases empathy in health…
Purpose – This chapter details the collaborative investigation of a neuroscientist and a literature scholar into whether reading literature increases empathy in health professionals, pre-health professionals and students outside of health care. It also reflects on the role of different epistemologies that inform researchers’ approaches, and muses on how ethnicity, sexual orientation and class inform research and teaching
Methodology/Approach – Students watched or read Margaret Edson’s play W;t and were asked if the medical drama increased their sense of appropriate empathy in medical encounters. The original research employed the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, electromyography and galvanic skin response to measure physiological markers of empathy. These results were then compared to the self-reflection of participants to determine whether or not the physiological responses mirrored the self-report. The reflections on how emotion impacted the research were primarily narrative essay-based accompanied by feminist other literary theories.
Findings – All participants in the original study reported an increase in empathy after reading or viewing the play. This affect was even stronger when they viewed a live performance. The researchers determined that the role that their ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and class needed further study, perhaps with different pieces of literature.
Originality/Value – This chapter reflects the interdisciplinary and epistemological challenges of two researchers from very different backgrounds and training and investigates the relationship between reading, physiological empathy and perceptions of empathy. It considers the difficult and controversial challenges to quantifying emotions and the role emotions play in academic collaboration.