Fiction for Good Living

For a long time literary critics and philosophers have argued, along with the novelist George Eliot, that one of fiction’s main jobs is to “enlarge men’s sympathies.” Recent lab work suggests they are right. The psychologists Mar and Keith Oatley tested the idea that entering fiction’s simulated social worlds enhances our ability to connect with actual human beings. They found that heavy fiction readers outperformed heavy nonfiction readers on tests of empathy, even after they controlled for the possibility that people who already had high empathy might naturally gravitate to fiction. As Oatley puts it, fiction serves the function of “making the world a better place by improving interpersonal understanding.”

via Why fiction is good for you – Page 3 – Boston.com.

Research further goes on to show that fiction raises people’s awareness of common human values that promote social well-being like friendship and helping one another.

Chalk up another one for book lovers everywhere.

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7 responses

  1. I never doubted it!! I’m kidding, but those findings make perfect sense to me.

  2. Fascinating! Thanks for writing about this, Lilian.

  3. I wonder if Conservatives in a democracy and Totalitarian regimes both know this and de-fang writing by different means. Conservatives dismiss, demean and de-fund literature. Totalitarian governments suppress it through censorship (and imprisoning writers) and promote stories for their propaganda value.

  4. I do wish we didn’t have to need scientific proof of things that are so blatantly obvious. Just goes to show how incredibly science-oriented our culture has become. Sigh. But as you say above,perhaps this ‘proof’ is what’s needed for an argument that can’t be contested.

    1. I especially think so here in Canada with our Conservative government.

  5. I agree that it’s a bit sad that we need proof that fiction is good for us. But we do live in a science-dominated world and I’ll be interested to see the science on this. Love the new look of the blog by the way.

    1. Thanks Pete! Good to see you back here. :)

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