Friday, October 4, 2013

The Brothers Karamozov Will Improve Your Social Intelligence

"In literary fiction, like Dostoyevsky, “there is no single, overarching authorial voice,” he said. “Each character presents a different version of reality, and they aren’t necessarily reliable. You have to participate as a reader in this dialectic, which is really something you have to do in real life.”

A article in the New York Times reports on a study conducted by social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City where volunteers were given literay fiction, popular fiction, and non-fiction to read. The readers were then fiven tests that measure people’s ability to decode emotions or predict a person’s expectations or beliefs in a particular scenario.The results were startling. As reported in the article, written by Pam Belluck,

"The researchers — Emanuele Castano, a psychology professor, and David Comer Kidd, a doctoral candidate — found that people who read literary fiction scored better than those who read popular fiction. This was true even though, when asked, subjects said they did not enjoy literary fiction as much. Literary fiction readers also scored better than nonfiction readers — and popular fiction readers made as many mistakes as people who read nothing."

"This is why I love science,” Louise Erdrich, whose novel “The Round House” was used in one of the experiments, wrote in an e-mail. The researchers, she said, “found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction."

Erdrich later says, “Writers are often lonely obsessives, especially the literary ones. It’s nice to be told what we write is of social value,” she said. “However, I would still write even if novels were useless.”

"Experts said the results implied that people could be primed for social skills like empathy, just as watching a clip from a sad movie can make one feel more emotional," Belluck wrote. This is exciting news for all who enjoy literature. And a good reason to continue to include literature in education curriculums. It build better people. 
I read The Round House a few months ago, a wonderful book. And have been reading the Brothers Karamazov over the last few weeks, a book I first read in 1970 and have read at least four times since then. I have been reading literary fiction since Sixth Grade. I can't say if it has made me a better person. But the now have a test for that!