Nurturing tolerance and inclusion through literary fiction
A study quoted in a recent article proposes that early exposure to literature contributes to the development of a more liberal, tolerant and empathic mindset by inspiring a more complex worldview. According to the rearchers, reading fiction puts readers in touch with a wide range of experiences, narratives and cultures and helps them to perceive and appreciate the wide variety of perspectives, beliefs and aspirations shared by people around the world.
The study established that such reading habits as children and teenagers predict the tendency, as adults, to prefer complex explanations for social behavior over simpler ones, to feel comfortably with ambiguity and to accept and appreciate differences.
An important caveat: the authors claim that only true literary fiction – whose complex narratives and elaborate social content challenge the reader’s worldview – can achieve those outcomes, while more accessible and stereotyped genres like romance novels and televised fiction, on the contrary, tend to enhance the status quo and to consolidate a less nuanced perspective.
These claims resonate with an older study, which ascertained that reading literary fiction – as oposed to, say, nonfictional essays – reduces “cognitive closure”, ie. the need to remove complexity and ambiguity from the decision-making process and come tp a quick conclusion, even if at the expense of rationality and fit.