How Reading Fiction Makes Us Better People

While literature has been criticized as a corrupting influence at different points in history, recent research suggests that works of fiction draw out the empathy in us, encouraging justice. 

What's the Latest Development?


If you've watched a recent episode of CSI, you probably exercised your moral faculty without know it. Recent sociological research suggests that we naturally draw moral distinctions between characters in fictional tales, following from how those characters treat the people around them. Jonathan Gottschall, whose findings will be published in the forthcoming book "Graphing Jane Austen", said: "Our survey respondents reacted to the characters as though they were real people: They admired the protagonists, disliked the antagonists, felt happy when the good guys succeeded, and felt sad or angry when they were threatened."

What's the Big Idea?

While literature has been condemned at different points in history for encouraging anti-social behavior, research suggests that individuals who read works of fiction are more likely to empathize with others. And while nonfiction is tasked with the purpose of persuading through argument and evidence, "studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical." Reading fiction, on the other hand, allows us to drop our intellectual guard, moving us emotionally. Evolutionary psychologists say nature has selected for storytelling because of its strong moral component. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

Michael Drosnin
Surprising Science
  • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
  • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
  • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap
popular

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less