Research has demonstrated that people who read more fiction tend to have better perspective-taking abilities. Now, new research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has found that reading more fiction early in life is associated with a more complex worldview and increased empathic abilities.
“By introducing readers to difference, even if that difference is not expressed as a different cast of mind, we argue that fictional experience can nevertheless remind readers that the world is complex, not simple; with powerful psychological effects,” explained study author Nicholas Buttrick and colleagues. “Fiction, in other words, does more than just give people social practice—by presenting difference, novelty, and even confusion, it underlines the idea of the world as a radically complicated place.”
People have differing levels of attributional complexity, which is one’s comfort with ambiguity and willingness to understand behavior in the context of a complex system. Readers of literary fiction, which is characterized by the introduction of a problem or difficulty in a world, may then have differing worldview complexity compared to non-readers.
For Study 1, researchers recruited a final sample of 369 American adults from Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online research platform. Participants completed measures assessing the genres they read early in life, attributional complexity (i.e., how much participants prefer complex explanations for social behavior over simple ones), and psychological richness (i.e., a sense that one’s life is interesting, and one is gaining wisdom).
Results showed that reading more overall was not associated with differences in attributional complexity; however, reading more romance novels, specifically, early in life was associated with lower attributional complexity. Frequency of reading fiction overall in early life, on the other hand, was associated with more psychological richness.
For Study 2, researchers wanted to extend these findings to understandings of systemic injustice to explore whether early life reading of fiction is related. They recruited a final sample of 2,243 American university students to participate.
Participants completed measures of both their current and early life reading habits and system justifying beliefs (i.e., how much one believes in the legitimacy of the current social order). The latter measure contained 4 sub-sections assessing participants’ belief in a just world, belief in the importance of hard work, belief that people can climb the social ladder, and belief that status differences in a society are appropriate.
Results showed that reading more literary fiction (both currently and in early life) was associated with a lower belief in system legitimacy.
Link to the rest at PsyPost
PG says if you’re not familiar with Mechanical Turk, you can learn more here.