The Moral Laboratory

Experiments examining the effects of reading literature on social perception and moral self-concept

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The idea that reading literature changes the reader seems as old as literature itself. Through the ages philosophers, writers, and literary scholars have suggested it affects norms, empathic ability, self-concept, beliefs, etc. This book examines what we actually know about these effects. And it finds strong evidence for the old claims. However, it remains unclear what aspects of the reading experience are responsible for these effects. Applying methods of the social sciences to this particular problem of literary theory, this book presents a psychological explanation based upon the conception of literature as a moral laboratory. A series of experiments examines whether imagining oneself in the shoes of characters affects beliefs about what it must be like to be someone else, and whether it affects beliefs about consequences of behavior. The results have implications for the role literature could play in society, for instance, in an alternative for traditional moral education.

Subjects: Theoretical literature & literary studies; Consciousness research; Philosophy

  • Affiliations: 1: Utrecht University

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