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Old 10-05-2013, 08:36 AM   #1
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Want To Read Others' Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction

Quote:
Want To Read Others' Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction
by NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE
October 04, 2013 4:24 PM

Would time spent with Anton Chekov, famed for his subtle, flawed characters, make you a better judge of human nature?
Would time spent with Anton Chekov, famed for his subtle, flawed characters, make you a better judge of human nature?

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Your ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others could be affected by the kind of fiction you read.

That's the conclusion of a study in the journal Science that gave tests of social perception to people who were randomly assigned to read excerpts from literary fiction, popular fiction or nonfiction.

On average, people who read parts of more literary books like The Round House by Louise Erdrich did better on those tests than people who read either nothing, read nonfiction or read best-selling popular thrillers like The Sins of the Mother by Danielle Steel.

For example, folks who were assigned to read highbrow literary works did better on a test called "Reading the Mind in the Eyes," which required them to look at black-and-white photographs of actors' eyes and decide what emotion the actors were expressing.

This is the first time scientists have demonstrated the short-term effects of reading on people's social abilities, says Raymond Mar, a psychology researcher at York University in Toronto. He has investigated the effects of reading in the past but did not work on this study.

"I think it's a really interesting paper," says Mar. "It seems to be largely consistent with this growing body of work showing that what we read and our exposure to narrative has a very interesting impact on our social abilities and our ability to understand what other people are thinking and feeling."
....

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013...terary-fiction

and

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/1...ekhov/?hp&_r=0

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Old 10-05-2013, 08:54 AM   #2
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“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.”

“Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries,” she added.
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Old 10-05-2013, 10:59 AM   #3
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They probably didn't actually look for tooth decay or blocked arteries, maybe they should have. This sounds a lot like one of those studies that went out to try and prove some particular point - and lo and behold, it was true! What a surprise. Given the diversity of fiction available, and the lack of firm boundaries between genres, it doesn't seem likely that the study's findings mean all that much. (Disclaimer: I can't access details of the study, so all this is just me guessing.)

I'm curious, I've never read Danielle Steel, is "The Sins of the Mother" really a thriller?
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Old 10-05-2013, 11:10 AM   #4
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All scientific studies following the scientific method of looking for particular results to either uphold the hypothesis or reject it.

I, based on my own experience agree with the results. It's not saying that one is better than the other nor is it saying that it's black and white. I think there is a very broad spectrum of literature and it's not always easy to determine.

I think the primary thing they did in 'choosing' what literary fiction was vs non-literary was to choose character-based vs plot based.

I think there is a lot of overlap, for example how would you classify E. L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate? Or some of John Irvings work The World According to Garp or ...

Probably don't learn much Science from Literary Fiction though. SF has got it all over literary fiction there.

Last edited by kennyc; 10-05-2013 at 11:41 AM. Reason: typo - go/of ??
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Old 10-05-2013, 11:34 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kennyc View Post
All scientific studies following the scientific method go looking for particular results to either uphold the hypothesis or reject it.[...]
Wrong sub-forum to argue the details of that sentence, but in this particular study I have difficulty thinking that they have really proved anything substantial. I have my doubts whether a short term(?) study based on excerpts says anything much, except how it is possible to provide short term training to achieve particular results. The results possibly say more about the skills of the researchers to pull out excerpts they need, than it does about the effects of reading different types of literature.
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Old 10-05-2013, 11:39 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Wrong sub-forum to argue the details of that sentence, but in this particular study I have difficulty thinking that they have really proved anything substantial. I have my doubts whether a short term(?) study based on excerpts says anything much, except how it is possible to provide short term training to achieve particular results. The results possibly say more about the skills of the researchers to pull out excerpts they need, than it does about the effects of reading different types of literature.
You're free to believe whatever you want.

Regardless of that it was a Scientific Study peer reviewed and published in "Science" magazine one of the top two most highly respected scientific journals in the world.
Here's the link to the abstract: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/ea...39918.abstract


and if you doubt the truth of that sentence then you don't have a clue about what science does.

P.S. I did just notice/fix a typo up there go/of ...

"All scientific studies following the scientific method of looking for particular results to either uphold the hypothesis or reject it."

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Old 10-09-2013, 06:43 PM   #7
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Just read a Scientific American article on the same subject that looks as if it used the same source material.

"Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy" by Julianne Chiaet.

Interesting stuff, Kenny. Guess I'll have to grab a copy of The Round House by Louise Erdrich and start empathizing.
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Old 10-09-2013, 06:46 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WT Sharpe View Post
Just read a Scientific American article on the same subject that looks as if it used the same source material.

"Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy" by Julianne Chiaet.

Interesting stuff, Kenny. Guess I'll have to grab a copy of The Round House by Louise Erdrich and start empathizing.
I just got it from the library myself.
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Old 10-09-2013, 11:44 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kennyc View Post
[...]and if you doubt the truth of that sentence then you don't have a clue about what science does.[...]
You may note that I queried the phrasing of your sentence rather than your understanding of science. Although, given that I know you write about science, I suppose that may be considered as bad and perhaps explains why you felt you had to go on the attack.

As I assume you know, there is a difference between designing an experiment to test a hypothesis and designing an experiment to achieve a particular result. The latter often leads to a confirmation bias - and I think we could be seeing that here.

This is an experiment based on excerpts, despite the fact that the books are intended to be read as a whole. It is also unclear how the books and the excerpts were chosen. And then, from the link WT Sharpe gave us, we see weasel words like "tends" and "often", suggesting a lot of wriggle room in the interpretation of the experiment and the results.

I would argue that the experiment tells us nothing about literary vs other genres as a scientifically valid conclusion. We might, of our own experience (but without scientific study for support), assume that literary fiction often has certain attributes, but that does not deny those attributes may exist in other genres, nor does it insist that every literary novel possesses those attributes. To go from "excerpts showing these attributes produce these results" to "reading literary novels improves empathy" seems (to me) a larger leap than is called for by the experiments.

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Old 10-10-2013, 06:31 AM   #10
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As I said, you're free to believe (and argue) whatever you want. You apparently don't understand science and know no more about the experiment than anyone else reading the article.

Clearly there was a decision made with regard to what they considered literary and what they considered non-literary and as I said above, and other have said, that is a very fuzzy, grey area. The study apparently had some idea of how to make the distinction and it appears to be made on character vs plot lines.

Now my points about the Science of this is:

1. A scientific experiment is designed specifically to test a particular hypothesis.

2. A scientific experiment is set up to specifically rule out any observer or measurement bias. (including confirmation bias)

3. This particular experiment was peer reviewed and published in one of the two leading scientific journals and therefore should be considered to have been conducted, reviewed and validated following a scientific methodology.

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Old 10-10-2013, 07:01 AM   #11
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From the NYT link:

Quote:
“Frankly, I agree with the study,” said Albert Wendland, who directs a master’s program in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. “Reading sensitive and lengthy explorations of people’s lives, that kind of fiction is literally putting yourself into another person’s position [...]
NO. NO, it's not. This was a writing MFA director? I realise it's hit the dictionaries and all recently, but this is the point where my descriptivism comes to a screeching halt.

Other than that, yeah, this whole thing is a *shrug* for me right now. You can't throw all genre fiction into one bin, and say that it doesn't deal with character and emotion but instead in stereotypes and plot; and throw lit fic into another and say it is all about character and emotion; and then take (no doubt highly selective) excerpts, look at an effect that happens (and for all we know is then over) within minutes in adults, and then generalise it to Reading Literary Fiction Is Good For Our Children. Not that the researchers are doing that particular bit of generalising, but the media sure is.

(I also confess to a giant eyeroll at them choosing Heinlein to represent SF. Things have changed, dudes.)
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Old 10-10-2013, 07:12 AM   #12
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From Goodreads quote of the day. Very apropos following that post :

I hate brandy...it stinks of modern literature.
- Harold Pinter

October 10, 1930: Harold Pinter's plays are so distinctive that they've spawned their own adjective. To say that something is Pinteresque suggests that it will be volatile, menacing, and strangely silent. Pinter, who was born in London 83 years ago today, thought that the coinage was absurd.
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Old 10-10-2013, 10:16 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by kennyc View Post
As I said, you're free to believe (and argue) whatever you want. You apparently don't understand science and know no more about the experiment than anyone else reading the article.
[...]
2. A scientific experiment is set up to specifically rule out any observer or measurement bias. (including confirmation bias)[...]
Once again I must take you to task over your wording. Scientific method does not "rule out" bias, it does try to reduce it. (Read the Wikipedia article for the many ways it tries to reduce bias.)

You really need to do better if you intend to cast around accusations that others "apparently don't understand science".

Science encourages discussion, which was what I was attempting here, though I'd rather have talked more about the subject than scientific method.
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Old 10-10-2013, 10:29 PM   #14
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No you really need to watch your own claims and wording when you claim to know more about science and the experiment than those who did it.

You have an opinion (not a scientific objection or rational objection) with regard to the findings of the experiment which you know very little about so you are arguing with me because I happened to post a link to the study.

I suggest you contact the scientists themselves and give them a piece of your mind.

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Old 10-10-2013, 10:43 PM   #15
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[...]You have an opinion (not a scientific objection or rational objection) with regard to the findings of the experiment which you know very little about so you are arguing with me because I happened to post a link to the study.
Actually, Kenny, I'm mainly arguing with you because you chose to be so dismissive of my posts. My objections have been rational within the context of the what we know from the various links, obviously that doesn't include the full details of the experiment - but then I've learned to take popular press interpretations of scientific experiments with good serving of salt.
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