How Could Children’s Storybooks Promote Empathy? A Conceptual Framework Based on Developmental Psychology and Literary Theory

Kucirkova, Natalia (2019). How Could Children’s Storybooks Promote Empathy? A Conceptual Framework Based on Developmental Psychology and Literary Theory. Frontiers in Psychology, 10

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00121

Abstract

This conceptual paper proposes a framework for understanding the developmental mechanisms and literary characteristics that bind children’s storybooks with empathy. The article begins with a taxonomy of empathy composed of three key continuous dimensions: cognitive/emotional empathy, empathy for in-group and out-group members and empathy with positive and negative consequences. Insights from developmental psychology and literary theory form the basis for an interdisciplinary framework based on three premises: (1) book-reading can support empathy if it fosters in-group/out-group identification and minimizes in-group/out-group bias; (2) identification with characters who are dissimilar from the readers is the most valuable contribution of children’s storybooks to cognitive empathy; and (3) the quality of language positions children’s storybooks as an exceptional, but not exclusive, empathy-building form of fictional narratives. Implications for future intervention and empirical work are provided.

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