Reading books helps develop empathy in children, research reveals


Half of British parents think that reading a book is the best way to develop their child's empathy, research by Amnesty International has found.

Some 53% of parents said reading a book would help their child put themselves in other people's shoes, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the charity.

Only 12% of parents thought watching television would teach their children to be more empathetic, while 3% said playing a computer game was the best way to develop empathy.

The poll's results coincide with academic findings on reading and empathy. Research led by York University in Canada found that children exposed to more storybooks tend to be better at understanding other people's thoughts and emotions.

Dr Raymond Mar, professor of psychology at York University, said: "Reading with your child may help them to think about others and their feelings, a key to developing empathy for others. It's great that the intuitions of parents seem to line up with what we know from scientific research."

The poll also asked parents to select a book which they felt had best helped them to identify with others. One sixth (17%) chose Roald Dahl's BFG. To Kill a Mockingbird came second with 16% of parents choosing Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was ranked seventh, lower than children's classics Goodnight Mr Tom and The Secret Garden.

The poll is being released to mark International Children's Book Day and is the first ever human rights commendation for children's books.

The Amnesty CILIP Honour will be awarded in June to two books that most distinctively illustrate, uphold or celebrate freedoms. The books will be selected from the Carnegie shortlist and the Kate Greenaway illustrated books shortlists.

Nicky Parker, Amnesty's Head of Publishing, said: "We hope the Amnesty award will make it easy for parents and teachers to identify books which will teach children about truth, freedom and justice, and encourage them to feel they can shape a better world."