Reading stories may increase empathy universally, study says

Updated 2017-10-11 15:31:54 Xinhua

Scientists have found that reading stories, regardless of cultural and language differences, is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy towards one another.

According to a study published in the scientific journal Human Brain Mapping, researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) have found universal patterns of brain activation when people find meaning in stories, regardless of the language.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists mapped brain responses to narratives in three different languages - English, Persian and Mandarin Chinese.

The narratives were chosen using a software to sift through more than 20 million blog posts, narrowing down to 40 stories on personal topics, the USC said in a news release on its website.

The stories were then translated into the three languages and read by a total of 90 American, Chinese and Iranian participants in their native language while their brains were being scanned. The participants also answered general questions about the stories while under the scanner.

"Even given these fundamental differences in language, which can be read in a different direction or contain a completely different alphabet altogether, there is something universal about what occurs in the brain at the point when we are processing narratives," said Morteza Dehghani, the study's lead author and a researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the USC.

The study is believed to be a first for neuroscience, according to the release. It opens up the possibility that exposure to narrative storytelling can have a widespread effect on triggering better self-awareness and empathy for others, regardless of the language or origin of the person exposed to it.

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