As evidence suggests that reading literary narrative fiction alters readers’ sense of self and social perceptions, it may play an important role in enhancing such awareness. Uncovering the preconditions and underlying processes of literary reading, the present project examines how literature can be used to effect personal and social changes.
Literary theorists and psychologists alike suggest that reading (literary) fiction helps readers develop new possible selves in a safe way, and reflect on their wished-for and feared selves. Moreover, it may help readers imagine what it might be like to be in the shoes of others, thus developing readers’ theory of mind. One of the strengths literary texts present over non-literary ones is that in challenging readers, they stimulate and extend their imagination by means of more complex or deviating plots. In doing so, literary texts may promote readers’ understanding of themselves and others.
Our multidisciplinary team of literary scholars, educationalists, and organization psychologists aims to investigate (1) which forms of interactions between readers and literary narrative fiction lead to transformations in readers’ understandings of themselves and others, (2) whether (and which) textual qualities contribute to such transformative effects, for instance as compared to self-help books, (3) under which conditions literature-based interventions can enhance these effects, and (4) their applications in particular within two types of social contexts: literary education at upper secondary school level (HAVO/VWO) and the workplace, primarily on managers and leaders.