The purpose of this experiment was to examine whether narrative proximity, the literary psychic distance between a reader and a character, affects a reader’s ability to empathize with a character. Additionally, this experiment sought to determine if a reader’s ability to empathize with a character influences their attitudes towards people who share an identity with that character. Participants took an IAT regarding their attitudes towards people with depression, read either three stories “close” to a character with depression or three stories “distant” from a character with depression, and re-took the IAT. After each story, participants answered an empathy-related questionnaire. The hypothesis was as follows: participants “close” to characters with depression would display greater empathy towards those characters, and would demonstrate more positive attitudes towards people with depression. Though the results support none of these hypotheses, this study found that participants connected to the protagonists of medium and long stories more than the protagonists of short stories, and participants displayed improved attitudes towards people with depression. The efficacy of these results is mitigated by the low power of the study.


Thompson, Claudia

Second Advisor

Shostak, Debra


English; Psychology


Cognition and Perception | Fiction | Other English Language and Literature | Other Psychology | Quantitative Psychology | Social Psychology | Social Psychology and Interaction


fiction, literature, empathy, empathy studies, connection, psychology, creative writing, IAT, attitude, reading, implicit attitudes, tolerance, understanding, attitudinal change

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2019 Nathaniel C. Davis