Empathy and the Transformative Power of Fiction

Teaching and Learning Building Lecture Room 1 (LG18)
Wednesday 10 April 2024 (18:00-19:00)
Jaen Portillo transformative humanities

Dr Isabel Jaén Portillo delivers the first in our Transformative Humanities lecture series

'Empathy and the Transformative Power of Fiction'

This talk will revisit the controversial questions ’can fiction lead to prosocial behaviour?’ and ’can it make us better people’. It will do so by providing examples from two different media (literature and film) and historical periods (early modern and contemporary) within the European context. In the process it will reflect on the value and centrality of the narrative-empathy link for the transformative humanities.

This lecture is also the first keynote address of the University of Birmingham hosted International Conference of Three Societies on Literature and Science and will be followed by a drinks reception.


Dr Isabel Jaén is Professor of Spanish at Portland State University, where she teaches literature, film, and cognition. She holds PhDs from Purdue University and the Universidad Complutense of Madrid. Her research fields include early modern literature and psychology, cognitive literary studies, contemporary literature and film, historical memory, women studies, migration, and transatlantic studies.

Dr Jaén is co-director of Cine-Lit (the International Conference on Film and Literature organized in conjunction with the Portland International Film Festival) and co-president of the Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies Association (LALISA). She is also the USA/North America representative for the Commission on Science and Literature (CoSciLit) of the Division of the History of Science and Technology (DHST) within the International Union for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUHPST). She is a former executive member (2008-2012, chair in 2011) of the Division for Cognitive Approaches to Literature at the Modern Language Association (MLA) and a former member of the Purdue Cognitive Literary Studies Steering Committee (2008-2010). Dr Jaén also co-founded and co-directed (2005-2015) the Literary Theory, Cognition, and the Brain Working Group at the Whitney Humanities Center in Yale University.