Reading for empathy, reflecting for awareness: A pilot study for improving self and other awareness through writing
The recent popularity of the term “empathy” has generated a lot of discussion about how to gain empathetic awareness of the world around us. For composition studies, the student writer must have an empathetic awareness and understanding of who they are as an individual, as well as an empathetic awareness and understanding of who their audience is, which is defined as “external empathy.” The primary purpose of this study was to develop a way to talk about empathetic awareness in writing in order to produce more audience aware writing in the composition classroom. In particular, it focused on the newly coined terms “external empathy” and “internal empathy” found in reflective writing. A total of 22 participants, nine participants for the control group and 13 participants for the test group, from Texas Woman’s University completed three stages of this mixed-methods research study. The first stage involved participants completing two types of assessment, a written pre-reflection assessed for empathy and a Defining Issues Test (DIT) that assessed for moral judgment. The second stage involved both groups reading four short stories with the test group completing a guided reflection for each story. The third stage requested participants to repeat the assessments from the first stage. The data collected from all three stages revealed that: (1) reading literary fiction increases empathetic awareness, (2) writing guided reflection about the reading leads to a further increase in empathetic awareness, and (3) empathy appears in two forms, “external empathy,” or empathetic awareness of the other, and “internal empathy,” or empathetic awareness of the self. These results indicated that by adding reflection to the practice of reading increases the amount empathy performed in writing. This suggests that future research should include exploring how to incorporate this type of empathy performance in composition writing in order to gain better audience and self awareness in writing to gain more authentic communication.