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You 2.0: The Empathy Gym

Empathy
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What books are on your summer reading list?

If you're reading mostly nonfiction, consider the benefits of adding a novel to the mix.

"There's a fair amount of evidence now that the more fiction that people read, the more empathetic that they become," says Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki. "Because fiction is one of the most powerful ways to connect with people who are different from us who we might not have a chance to meet otherwise."

Zaki argues that empathy is like a muscle — it can be strengthened with exercise and it can atrophy when idle. On this episode of Hidden Brain, we talk about calibrating our empathy so we can interact with others more mindfully.

"Oftentimes, when we encounter someone who's different from ourselves and has an opinion or a viewpoint maybe that we even abhor, it's easy to just view them as being either obtuse or dishonest or both," says Zaki.

"But that's a mistake. I think empathy at a deep level is the understanding that someone else's world is just as real as yours."

Additional resources:

The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki

Fiction reading has a small positive impact on social cognition: A meta-analysis by David Dodell-Feder and Diana I. Tamir

Parochial Empathy Predicts Reduced Altruism and the Endorsement of Passive Harm by Emile G. Bruneau, Mina Cikara, and Rebecca Saxe

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, Laura Kwerel and Thomas Lu. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Parth Shah is an associate producer at Hidden Brain. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.