I’ve previously reported findings that suggest fiction is good for the brain–turns out avid fiction readers have better people skills. I’ve also mused here about my occasional crisis of confidence that what I do–write what is essentially escapist fiction–may not have any redeeming social value.
Once again, science is proving that it has tonnes. SCIENCE!
As reported recently in the Boston Globe (and available on a mirror site here) psychological and broad-based literary analysis is finally proving that fiction does mold us, and for the better.
The more engrossing the story, the more potent its influence. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction. We are critical and skeptical when we read nonfiction, when we read argument and evidence. But a fictional tale that absorbs us makes us drop our guard.
It turns out that in this malleable state fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. Fiction’s happy endings warp our sense of reality: they make us believe that the world is more just than it actually is.
Virtually all storytelling, regardless of genre, increases society’s fund of empathy and reinforces an ethic of decency that is deeper than politics. 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 one of the researchers put it, fiction serves the function of “making the world a better place by improving interpersonal understanding.”
Yeah. That’s what I do. I’ll take that.