Reading Books and Reading Minds: Differential Effects of Wonder and The Crossover on Empathy and Theory of Mind


  • Martha S. Guarisco The Episcopal School of Baton Rouge
  • Celine Brooks West Virginia University
  • Louise M. Freeman Mary Baldwin University



We tested sixth graders for empathy and theory of mind before and after an academic unit on either Wonder or The Crossover. Wonder was associated with improved perspective-taking; students who read The Crossover increased in concern for others. Faux pas detection increased in both genders with Wonder, and in girls with The Crossover. Students who read The Crossover in print showed improved understanding of facial expressions, while students who used iPads declined. Young adult fiction is associated with improved social cognitive skills, but effects depend on gender and reading format, as well as on the choice of individual book.


Alexander, K. (2014). The Crossover. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Amir, Y., & Sharon, I. (1990). Replication research: A "must" for the scientific advancement of psychology. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 5(4), 51-69.

Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (2013). How does fiction reading influence empathy? An experimental investigation on the role of emotional transportation. PloS one, 8(1), e55341. <a href=''></a>

Barnyak, N. C., & McNelly, T. A. (2015). The literacy skills and motivation to read of children enrolled in Title I: A comparison of electronic and print nonfiction books. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-10.

Baron-Cohen, S., O'Riordan, M., Stone, V., Jones, R., & Plaisted, K. (1999). Recognition of faux pas by normally developing children and children with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29(5), 407-418. <a href=''></a>

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Spong, A., Scahill, V., & Lawson, J. (2001). Are intuitive physics and intuitive psychology independent? A test with children with Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Developmental and Learning Disorders, 5(1), 47-78.

Bauerline, M., and Stotsky, S. (2012, Sep. 28). How Common Core's ELA standards undermine college readiness. Retrieved 10 June 2016 from <a href=''></a>

Cameron, L., & Rutland, A. (2006). Extended contact through story reading in school: Reducing children's prejudice toward the disabled. Journal of Social Issues, 62(3), 469-488. <a href=''></a>

Cameron, L., Rutland, A., Brown, R., & Douch, R. (2006). Changing children's intergroup attitudes toward refugees: Testing different models of extended contact. Child Development, 77(5), 1208-1219. <a href=''></a>

Chen, G., Cheng, W., Chang, T. W., Zheng, X., & Huang, R. (2014). A comparison of reading comprehension across paper, computer screens, and tablets: Does tablet familiarity matter? Journal of Computers in Education, 1(2-3), 213-225. <a href=''></a>

Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(1), 113. <a href=''></a>

Djikic, M., & Oatley, K. (2014). The art in fiction: From indirect communication to changes of the self. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(4), 498-505. <a href=''></a>

Djikic, M., Oatley, K., & Moldoveanu, M. C. (2013). Reading other minds: Effects of literature on empathy. Scientific Study of Literature, 3(1), 28-47. <a href=''></a>

Goldstein, T. R., & Winner, E. (2012). Enhancing empathy and theory of mind. Journal of Cognition and Development, 13(1), 19-37. <a href=''></a>

Goodwyn, A. (2014). Reading is now "cool": a study of English teachers' perspectives on e-reading devices as a challenge and an opportunity. Educational Review, 66(3), 263-275. <a href=''></a>

Green, John. [CrashCourse]. (2012, November 12). How and why we read: Crash course English Literature #1. [Video file]. Retrieved from <a href=''></a>.

Guarisco, M. & Freeman, L. (2015).The wonder of empathy: Using Palacio's novel to teach perspective taking. The ALAN Review, 56 (68), 56-68. <a href=''></a>

Hawk, S. T., Keijsers, L., Branje, S. J., Graaff, J. V. D., Wied, M. D., & Meeus, W. (2013). Examining the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) among early and late adolescents and their mothers. Journal of Personality Assessment, 95(1), 96-106. <a href=''></a>

Hayn, J. A., Clemmons, K.R., & Olvey, H.A. (2016) Fostering inclusion of disabled youth through young adult literature: Action research with Wonder. Study and Scrutiny: Research on Young Adult Literature 1(2): 64-78. <a href=''></a>

Huang, Y. M., Liang, T. H., & Chiu, C. H. (2013). Gender differences in the reading of e-books: Investigating children's attitudes, reading behaviors and outcomes. Educational Technology & Society, 16(4), 97-110.

Johnson, D. R. (2012). Transportation into a story increases empathy, prosocial behavior, and perceptual bias toward fearful expressions. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(2), 150-155. <a href=''></a>

Johnson, D. R., Cushman, G. K., Borden, L. A., & McCune, M. S. (2013a). Potentiating empathic growth: Generating imagery while reading fiction increases empathy and prosocial behavior. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(3), 306-312. <a href=''></a>

Johnson, D. R., Jasper, D. M., Griffin, S., & Huffman, B. L. (2013b). Reading narrative fiction reduces Arab-Muslim prejudice and offers a safe haven from intergroup anxiety. Social Cognition, 31(5), 578-598. <a href=''></a>

Kidd, D. C., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342(6156), 377-380. <a href=''></a>

Mangen, A. (2016). The digitization of literary reading. Orbis Litterarum, 71(3), 240-262. <a href=''></a>

Mangen, A., & Kuiken, D. (2014). Lost in an iPad: Narrative engagement on paper and tablet. Scientific Study of Literature, 4(2), 150-177. <a href=''></a>

Margolin, S. J., Driscoll, C., Toland, M. J., & Kegler, J. L. (2013). Eā€readers, computer screens, or paper: Does reading comprehension change across media platforms? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27(4), 512-519. <a href=''></a>

Mar, R. A., & Oatley, K. (2008). The function of fiction is the abstraction and simulation of social experience. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(3), 173-192. <a href=''></a>

Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Hirsch, J., de la Paz, J. and Peterson, J. B. (2006). Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability and the simulation of social worlds. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 694-712. <a href=''></a>

Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., & Peterson, J. B. (2008). Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes. Communications, 34(4), 407-428.

Mar, R. A., Tackett, J. L., & Moore, C. (2010). Exposure to media and theory of mind development in preschoolers. Cognitive Development, 25(1), 69-78. <a href=''></a>

McCrae, R. R., Gaines, J. E., & Wellington, M. A. (2012). The five factor model in fact and fiction. Handbook of Psychology. 2nd ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc. <a href=''></a>

Nomura, K., & Akai, S. (2012). Empathy with fictional stories: Reconsideration of the Fantasy Scale of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index. Psychological Reports, 110(1), 304-314. <a href=''></a>

Palacio, R.J. (2012). Wonder. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Stansfield, J., & Bunce, L. (2014). The relationship between empathy and reading fiction: Separate roles for cognitive and affective components. Journal of European Psychology Students, 5(3), 9-18. <a href=''></a>

Van der Graaff, J., Branje, S., De Wied, M., Hawk, S., Van Lier, P., & Meeus, W. (2014). Perspective taking and empathic concern in adolescence: Gender differences in developmental changes. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 881. <a href=''></a>

Vezzali, L., Stathi, S., & Giovannini, D. (2012). Indirect contact through book reading: Improving adolescents' attitudes and behavioral intentions toward immigrants. Psychology in the Schools, 49(2), 148-162. <a href=''></a>

Vezzali, L., Stathi, S., Giovannini, D., Capozza, D., & Trifiletti, E. (2014). The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Wideman, A. (2014, February 11). Under the Surface. [Video file]. Retrieved from <a href=''></a>.

Wright, S., Fugett, A., & Caputa, F. (2013). Using e-readers and internet resources to support com

Zeman, A., Milton, F., Smith, A., & Rylance, R. (2013). By heart: An fMRI study of brain activation by poetry and prose. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 20(9-10), 132-158.






Empirical Studies