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Another reason to read fiction

From Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal — fiction shapes our minds.

Research results have been consistent and robust: fiction does mold our minds. Story—whether delivered through films, books, or video games—teaches us facts about the world; influences our moral logic; and marks us with fears, hopes, and anxieties that alter our behavior, perhaps even our personalities. Research shows that story is constantly nibbling and kneading us, shaping our minds without our knowledge or consent. The more deeply we are cast under story’s spell, the more potent its influence.

stories make societies work better by encouraging us to behave ethically. As with sacred myths, ordinary stories — from TV shows to fairy tales — streep us all in the same powerful norms and values. They relentlessly stigmatize antisocial behavior and just as relentlessly celebrate prosocial behavior. We learn by association that if we are more like protagonists, we will be more apt to reap the typical rewards of protagonists (for instance, love, social advancement, and other happy endings) and less likely to reap the rewards of antagonists (for instance, death and disastrous loss of social standing).

Still curious? Stephen Greenblatt argues literature makes life much more worth living. Evan Hughes explores what fuels great fiction. And we tackle the question: Is reading fiction good for you?