Tag Archives: Psychology

Reading fiction affects perception

“Can people change their minds by reading fiction?

There’s not a lot of systematic research on how reading fiction changes people’s opinions or behavior, but one study found that a majority of serious readers reported that one or more books had in some way helped them or made a big difference in their lives. Another study found that people’s ratings of their own personalities changed more after reading a Chekhov story than after reading the same information presented as if it were a real court transcript. The fictional version also generated a greater emotional response, even though it wasn’t judged any more interesting than the non-fiction version. …

But what about the content of what you read in literature? The arguments? Can they change your mind about something important?

Not that much is known … especially about what you might consider to be ‘something important.’ But we do know that people partially compartmentalize what they read in fiction, keeping it separate from what they believe is true of the real world. But at the same time we know that there can be some leakage. For example, if you read a story in which a character mentions, in passing, that most mental illness has been shown to be contagious, you’ll have a harder time rejecting the idea later on, at least for the few minutes after reading the story. You can also pick up ‘misinformation’ without later realizing that it comes from the story.”

More: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/12/03/166362989/learning-facts-through-fiction-an-imagined-encounter

SpyWriter Jack King “A new King of thrillers on the horizon” http://www.SpyWriter.com

Loneliness of a double life

As new school year approaches and recruiters will be sweeping every campus for impressionable youth it may be a good idea to recount what it is like to be a spy:

“Intelligence agents lead double lives, requiring them to regularly deceive other people, and not just their targets. It is not easy for a person with a solid social conscience to sustain a lifestyle that involves covertly influencing or controlling others through lies. Agents can come to feel subtly detached or separated from other people, feelings that may persist even when they resume their normal lives once their espionage is over.

These psychological burdens of detachment and loneliness are acute while the agents are deployed and living their covers among their targets, where the seemingly trusting social relationships they have built with targets are mostly false, based on lies and manipulation. Sometimes they frankly despise the targets they are pretending to admire. Their real personalities are buried under layers of clandestinity; there is no one there who is aware of their true status, other than themselves. One particularly self-aware agent described his psychological situation while deployed as a form of solitary confinement, with his own skull his prison cell.”

More: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2012/07/05-spy-wilder

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The redeeming power of literature

“New research by Stanford’s Joshua Landy , associate professor of French and Italian, illustrates how authors throughout the ages have sought to improve mental skills like rational thinking and abstract thought by leading their readers through a gantlet of mental gymnastics.

In contrast to the common practice of mining fictional works for moral messages and information, Landy’s theory of fiction, outlined in his new book, “How to Do Things with Fictions,” presents a new reason for reading in an age when the patience to tackle challenging pieces of writing has dwindled tremendously.

Reading fiction “does not make us better people in the moral sense, whether by teaching us lessons, making us more empathetic or training us to handle morally complex situations,” said Landy.

However, for those interested in fine-tuning their intellectual capacities, Landy said literary works of fiction can offer “a new set of methods for becoming a better maker of arguments, a better redeemer of one’s own existence, a person of stronger faith or a person with a quieter mind.”

More: http://paloalto.patch.com/articles/fiction-books-give-a-boost-to-the-brain-says-stanford-professor


Everybody is a storyteller

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories,” declares Jonathan Gottschall in the preface to his recent book The Storytelling Animal.

Just as pilots train on a computerized flight simulator, so do humans learn to deal with life situations by practicing them through the medium of stories:

“Through stories we learn about human culture and psychology, without the potentially staggering costs of having to gain this experience firsthand”. It is because stories help us rehearse how to deal with life’s potential problems … 

Because the purpose of stories is to teach us about life, the job of our storytelling mind is to make sense of what happens in the world around us.

But if our experiences don’t contain obvious meaning and purpose, our mind will fill in what’s missing from those experiences so as to create a meaningful story:

“If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t”.

According to Gottschall, the stories our minds create serve one overarching purpose: They make society work better by defining and inculcating a sense of morality. … Even literary works contribute to teaching morality:  “Fiction almost never gives us morally neutral presentations of violence. When the villain kills, his or her violence is condemned. When the hero kills, he or she does so righteously. Fiction drives home the message that violence is acceptable only under clearly defined circumstances—to protect the good and the weak from the bad and the strong”. He cites newly emerging research suggesting that reading fiction affects people’s brain functioning and thereby helps shape their outlooks and attitudes; he notes that reading nonfiction does not produce the same results.”

More: http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=6527&cn=139

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Reading fiction brings you to reality

“When it comes to figuring out crucial lessons of human behavior, timeless works of fiction are unparalleled primers. As Keith Oatley, a professor in the department of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, recently told the Guardian: “Reading fiction improves understanding of others, and this has a very basic importance in society, not just in the general way [of] making the world a better place by improving [empathy] … but in specific areas such as politics, business, and education.”

When E.M. Forster asked a hypothetical reader in his book Aspects of the Novel why he read fiction, the character said, “It seems a funny sort of question to ask—a novel’s a novel—well, I don’t know—I suppose it tells a story, so to speak.” The story is essential, of course, to keep us engaged. But those of us who are drawn to novels aren’t there purely for entertainment (particularly not in this era when we can watch all the movies, television shows, and viral videos we want). No, most of us go between the pages to get inside different minds and learn more about how people tick. It’s no coincidence that the world’s best novelists are some of our most outstanding psychologists.”

Reading fiction will help your love life: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/20/virgil-jane-austen-and-other-authors-can-teach-us-about-love.html

The Practical Benefits of Reading Fiction

“Over the past decade, academic researchers such as Oatley and Raymond Mar from York University have gathered data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness. For instance, in fMRI studies of people reading fiction, neuroscientists detect activity in the pre-frontal cortex — a part of the brain involved with setting goals — when the participants read about characters setting a new goal. It turns out that when Henry James, more than a century ago, defended the value of fiction by saying that “a novel is a direct impression of life,” he was more right than he knew.

In one of Oatley and Mar’s studies in 2006, 94 subjects were asked to guess the emotional state of a person from a photograph of their eyes. “The more fiction people [had] read,” they discovered, “the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes, and…correctly interpreting social cues.” In 2009, wondering, as Oatley put it, if “devouring novels might be a result, not a cause, of having a strong theory of mind,” they expanded the scope of their research, testing 252 adults on the “Big Five “personality traits — extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness — and correlated those results with how much time the subjects generally spent reading fiction. Once again, they discovered “a significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory-of-mind abilities” allowing them to conclude that it was reading fiction that improved the subjects’ social skills, not that those with already high interpersonal skills tended to read more.”

More: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/01/the_business_case_for_reading.html#.Tw4i6VK-zFE.email

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Evolution and the pursuit of fiction

Evolutionary psychology explains the root of our pursuit of artistic expression, and the intense desire to consume it, according to Denis Dutton:

“Human beings expend staggering amounts of time and resources on creating and experiencing art and entertainment — music, dancing, and static visual arts. Of all of the arts, however, it is the category of fictional story-telling that across the globe today is the most intense focus of what amounts to a virtual human addiction. A recent government study in Britain showed that if you add together annual attendances in plays and cinema with hours watching television drama, the average Briton spends roughly 6% of all waking life watching dramatic performances. And that figure does not even include books and magazines: further vast numbers of hours spent reading short stories, bodice-rippers, mysteries, and thrillers, as well as so-called serious fictions, old and new. The origins of this obsession with comic and dramatic fictions are lost in remote prehistory, as lost as the origins of language itself. But like language, we know the obsession with fiction is universal: stories told, read, and dramatically or poetically performed are independently invented in all known cultures, literate or not, having advanced technologies or not. Wherever printing arrives, it is used to reproduce fictions. […]

The universal fascination with fictions is a curious thing. If human beings were attracted only to true narratives, factual reports that describe the real world, the attraction could be attributed to utility. We might imagine that just as early homo sapiens needed to hew sharp adzes and know the ways of game animals, so they needed to employ language accurately to describe themselves and their environment and to communicate truths to each other. Were that the case, there would be no “problem of fiction,” because there would be no fiction: the only alternatives to desirable truth would be unintentional mistakes or intentional lies. Such Pleistocene Gradgrinds would be about as eager to waste linguistic effort creating fables and fictions as they would be to waste their manual skills laboring to produce dull adzes. We can speculate even that the enjoyment of fictions might have put them at an adaptive disadvantage against more Gradgrindish neighboring tribes: homo sapiens would in such a circumstance have evolved to react to untrue, made-up stories much as it reacts to the smell of rotting meat. Now as it happens, this speculation does not accord with facts: the human reaction to fictions, at least when they are properly understood to be fictions, is not aversion, but runs anywhere from boredom to amusement to intense pleasure.”

Good news for readers and writers, regardless of what happens to the publishing industry: humans will always pursue the creative expressions, as well as be driven to it!


Shakespeare helps doctors


“Doctors should brush up on their Shakespeare to help improve their understanding of how the mind can affect the body, according to an unusual study.

[…] many doctors don’t realise how many physical symptoms can be caused solely by psychological problems.

‘Many doctors are reluctant to attribute physical symptoms to emotional disturbance, and this results in delayed diagnosis, over-investigation, and inappropriate treatment.

‘They could learn to be better doctors by studying Shakespeare. This is important because the so-called functional symptoms are the leading cause of general practitioner visits and of referrals to specialists.”

More: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2065646/Reading-Shakespeare-helps-doctors-understand-patients-mental-state.html?ITO=1490

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Reading affects your personality

“Burying your head in a novel isn’t just a way to escape the world: psychologists are increasingly finding that reading can affect our personalities.

The current research suggests that books give readers more than an opportunity to tune out and submerge themselves in fantasy worlds. Books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment.”

The “study definitely points to reading fulfilling a fundamental need – the need for social connection.”

More: http://m.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/07/reading-fiction-empathy-study?cat=books&type=article

Is reading books different from listening to audio books?

“37 percent of people say they’ve listened to an audio book, and the medium continues to become an important substitute for old-fashioned reading.

[…] research that predates CDs suggests that reading and listening are strikingly similar cognitive processes. For example, 1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension – suggesting that those who read books well would listen to them well, also. In a 1977 study, college students who listened to a short story were able to summarize it with equal accuracy as those who read it.

“The way this is usually interpreted is that once you are good at decoding letters into sound, which most of us are by the time we’re in 5th or 6th grade, the comprehension is the same whether it’s spoken or written,” explained University of Virginia psychology professor Dan Willingham.

What’s more, Willingham says there isn’t much individual variance in the way people absorb information (it’s an idea he touched on during a recent NPR interview, which debunked the myth of so-called “learning styles.”) Those who prefer one medium or the other simply like the feel of a physical book or the spoken kind.”

From: http://www.forbes.com/sites/olgakhazan/2011/09/12/is-listening-to-audio-books-really-the-same-as-reading/