Personal Growth

Synthesize the findings of the previous work
This project will synthesize the findings of the work conducted in the other projects. Here we will also include pointers to the other projects so as to guide you and your interests to the information you need.

In particular we will  focus on what we have learned about various sources for personal growth. For example, our results will help us understand how different categories of characters (e.g., flat versus round characters; fictional characters versus media celebrities) feed readers’ imagination (e.g., their wished-for or feared selves). Research suggests that some forms of engagement with characters (identification, or role-taking) play an essential role in the processes under investigation in the present project. Booth (1988) proposed that the quality and variety of ‘the company we keep’ affects our imagination regarding who we are and who we can be. Nussbaum (1990, 1997) claimed that narratives help us imagine what it must be like to be in the shoes of someone else, but that the more complex stories help us challenge and extend our ideas rather than confirm our prejudges.

The result of our synthesis project will reveal how various ‘companies’ affect conceptions of who we are and how we perceive others. We will discover when the acquaintance with a character is challenging enough to inspire readers to change. For some readers flat characters may be more effective in stimulating reflection on the self and inspiration to change. On the other hand, round characters may be more challenging to existing schemata and hence more effective in modifying pre-set ideas about the self and others. A related issue concerns timing: when do we seek the company of particular characters and when do we avoid them? Might that be determined by a need (or the lack thereof) for personal growth or self discovery.

Our synthesis will be constructed in close collaboration with the researchers of the other projects presented here on

We will relate our findings to more general theoretical discussions in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and in society at large. Issues that we will be dealing with here are the uses of art in general, and literature in particular. The main focus will be to examine the implications of the empirical evidence for debates about the evolutionary function of literature (Boyd, 2009), the narrative basis of self (Ferrari, Weststrate, Petro, 2013) and neuro-aesthetics (Jacobs, 2013). The synthesis will explore the relation of

literary reading processes with therapeutic practices, the development of moral imagination (Johnson, 1993), meaning in media (Oliver & Raney, 2011), and  modern methods for moral education.    

Universiteit Utrecht
Project Leader