The role of processing foregrounding in empathic reactions in literary reading

Giulia Scapin*, Cristina Loi, Frank Hakemulder, Kati Balint, E.A. Konijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A considerable body of research has examined the age-old assertion that
reading literature enhances empathy, however, mixed results have been
found. The present study attempts to clarify such disparities, investigating
the role of foregrounding in possible differences in readers’ processing of
literary texts and its connection with readers’ empathic reactions. We asked
participants (N = 78) to mark parts of the text they considered as “foregrounding” (i.e., deviating from “normal” discourse), and we analyzed how
they processed these stylistic aspects. Participants’ open responses to one of
two selected texts were categorized as either Shallow, Failed, Partial, or Full
Processing of Foregrounding. Full processing was associated with higher
Comprehensive State Empathy Scale scores than Failed Processing. Stylistic
analysis of word combinations that participants marked as “striking” suggests
that, rather than stylistic devices per se, readers’ depth of processing
may enhance state empathy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-293
Number of pages21
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


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