Science confirms: reading makes you a better person
You might say this is yet another science-confirms-the-obvious, but to me, this is the most poetic piece of neuro-psychology I’ve seen in years.
This study demonstrates that turn-of-the century prose by Chekhov can make university undergraduates experience and report themselves as more different than those who read a documentary–style text with the same content, complexity and potential to garner reader interest. It shows that reading literary art can have an effect even on non-avid readers, and that you do not have to be a booklover for reading to transform you. We hypothesize that the effect involves a softening of what are usually the rather rigid boundaries of our self-schemas. By projecting ourselves into fictional stories and the minds of fictional characters, we open ourselves up to greater possibilities for who we may become. It is important for us to stress that participants did not show a collective change in the same direction: not all of them became more extraverted, or open, or conscientious, for example. In other words, they were not persuaded by a moral embedded in a story. Rather, each reader experienced a unique fluctuation in their entire personality profile. Reading Chekhov induced changes in their sense of self – perhaps temporary – such that they experienced themselves not as different in some way prescribed by the story, but as different in a direction toward discovering their own selves. Whether this effect can also be realized with other sorts of fiction has yet to be investigated.
Is it possible that, over months and years of reading, we could sum and consolidate such small, and perhaps temporary, changes of the kind we have found here to create movements in the development of selfhood? Our finding with Chekhov’s story prompts us toward believing the claims by avid readers that their favorite literary works have transformed their lives and changed their personalities. We might even start to think of literature in particular, and art in general, as functionally related to human personality development. Might we perhaps take this functionality as a clue to the longevity and persistence of art across millennia of human civilization?
I wonder, would you get similar results for video games, e.g. – let people play WoW or Mario and then ask them to describe themselves.
Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., & Djikic, M. (in press). Effects of reading on knowledge, social abilities, and selfhood: Theory and empirical studies. In S. Zyngier, M. Bortolussi, A. Chesnokova, & J. Auracher (Eds.). Directions in Empirical Literary Studies: In honor of Willie van Peer