Course Description

Students in the Hutton Honors College may enroll in this class for honors credit.

How do people understand each other or think they do? How is it that we can slip into the shoes of someone else, even though we may not know them at all? And how, when reading fiction, do the emotions of fictional beings come to life as if they are just like us and yet in some ways remain different? Is it perhaps this ability to slip into the shoes of someone else that makes man different even from most other apes? What abilities does one need to understand someone else and who lacks them? Which roles do our story-telling abilities play?

This is a course in experimental humanities. This class will turn you into researchers of a new and growing field that includes elements of literature, psychology, and cognitive science. Your task will be to devise a theory for what triggers and what blocks human empathy. By empathy we mean the sense that were slipping into the shoes of another, be it a real person or a fictional character, seeming to understand and even feel their emotions. And you will test your theories by developing short fictional texts in which you predict when and how readers will empathize. For example, we will develop sets of short texts that include the depiction of a conflict between two people. Our goal is to predict with whom readers will side in non-obvious situations (and develop empathy). Then you will manipulate these texts slightly to modify the side-taking choices.

This course wants to boost your self-confidence. We want you to experience that you have the skills to develop a theory of your own. Certainly, you will also acquire knowledge of work in cognitive science and literary criticism. However, the emphasis of the course is to develop your own theory of understanding others. You will have the option to closely examine a literary text (or a movie) to reach a conclusion for how this medium aims to get you involved. You may also base this theory on a selection of recent scientific texts on empathy. You can also conduct experiments of your own or redo famous experiments, such as the False Belief Task that led to the so-called Theory of Mind, which we will consider in class.

GenEd Information: Currently approved for the IU Bloomington GenEd AH requirement. See the GenEd Website for more information.

Catalog Information: COLL-S 103 FRESHMAN SEMINAR IN A & H

IFS course instructor photo

Course Instructor: Fritz Breithaupt

Professor Breithaupt, that is: Fritz, teaches literature, culture, and cognitive science in the Department of Germanic Studies, Hutton Honors College, and in other programs. He is also the chair of Germanic Studies. Among his latest books are two on empathy (in German & Spanish) and one on narrative. He also plans a book on the topic of the IFS course. He has three kids. When Fritz was an undergrad, he did not know which major to take and ended up entering various degree programs in many fields (law, fine arts, and the humanities). His true passion during his undergrad years was traveling around the globe.

I Feel Your Pain: The Science and Culture of Empathy

I Feel Your Pain: The Science and Culture of Empathy: Courses: Intensive Freshman Seminars: Indiana University Bloomington