Yeah, as your MFA guy already knows, it turns out that reading literary fiction is better for you than reading other types of fiction, especially if you grew up doing it.
In a new article published this week in the Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychologyresearchers Nicholas Buttrick, Erin C. Westgate and Shigehiro Oishi find that reading literary fiction early in life “is associated with a more complex worldview among Americans” – defining a complex worldview as being characterized by “a increased attributional complexity, increased psychological richness, decreased belief that contemporary inequalities are legitimate, and decreased belief that people are essentially one-sided.
The finding was based on four surveys of Americans, organized “to identify a relationship between the genres of books a person reads, sampled widely to better understand possible relationships between the full range of possible reading topics and the complexity of their worldview.
Interestingly, the discovery was specific to literary fiction as a genre. In fact, the authors found that “early reading of narrative fiction that features more standardized plots and characters, such as romance novels, predicts a less complex worldview.”
(And which genre was associated with both the highest attribution complexity and psychological richness scores? You guessed it (maybe): short stories. Again, your MFA guy wants you recognize how right he was. Maybe now you’ll help find him an agent for his collection.)
The key to a complex worldview, according to the authors, lies not exactly in empathy, as other studies claim, but in internalizing the concept of difference. “In introducing readers to difference, even if that difference is not expressed in a different frame of mind, we argue that fictional experience can nonetheless remind readers that the world is complex, not simple; with powerful psychological effects,” they write. “In other words, fiction does more than just give people social practice – by presenting difference, newness, and even confusion, it underscores the idea of the world as a radically complicated place.”
Which means reading literary fiction could be more important than ever. “Understanding the world as varied and complex has clear implications for how one thinks about societal injustice,” the authors argue. “Those with higher attribution complexity are more likely to identify systemic factors leading to unequal treatment within a society instead of blaming individuals who have failed to pick themselves up in their own boots. (Reid & Foels, 2010) By emphasizing the multiple causes of human behavior, stemming from both the person and the situation, greater attributional complexity helps provide the foundation needed to be good global citizens. a modern multicultural democracy.
As long as our democracy holds out, that is.
Read the full (fascinating) document here.