Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reading Responses

“Writers are often lonely obsessives, especially the literary ones. It’s nice to be told what we write is of social value."-Louise Erdrich (Belluck A1).
"Story is the counterforce to social disorder, the tendency of things to fall apart" (Gottschall 1634-1635).
I like these two quotes a lot mainly because they discuss the importance of story in society. I just thought I would share them because I enjoyed them so much. My two emphasis areas are biology and English.

Now onto the real post:
I began my research project soon after reading chapter 7 in Jonathan Gottschall's book "The Storytelling Animal" and an intriguing article in The New York Times, "For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov" by Pam Belluck. This article inspired me to question, what biological responses are triggered in the human brain in response to stories. Whether reading, listening, or watching, is the human response something that is the same in all or different depending on the person? When I performed the research before the actual test, I found an intriguing article about how humans exhibited biological responses to the characters in stories and their actions (Deen, McCarthy 1607-1615). I thought this could have been taken a bit farther and used to determine if humans have an empathetic response to the characters in their stories. I have set up several groups of people (of varying ages), chosen an excerpt of a book to read that will elicit an emotional response, and determine if it is similar to others reading the same excerpt. All that is left is to perform the actual experiment and determine what my data results in. I believe that this will work and that many will show to exhibit the same empathetic response to the character in the story and that it will exhibit itself in biological symptoms that can be mapped.
While this isn't an acutal research project that I have done, I would fine it as one intriguing to perform if given the ample time and resources. Does anyone else think it would have the same results? Does anyone think that the results will be different?

Belluck, Pam. "For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov." New York Times. 03 OCT 2013: A1. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
Deen, Ben; McCarthy, Gregory; Reading about the actions of others: Biological motion imagery and action congruency influence brain activity, Neuropsychologia, Volume 48, Issue 6, May 2010, Pages 1607-1615, ISSN 0028-3932,
Gottschall, Jonathan (2012-04-10). The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Kindle Locations 1634-1635). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.


  1. Are you taking into account different backgrounds? I think the results will vary depending on culture and religion. If you just get a random group with different ages, who knows if they will all turn out to be Caucasian Atheists? Also, different ages would produce different results because younger people generally don't care for the same things adults do. If the bad guy was stealing candy from the store and then shot the cashier, I think a younger person (say 7 or 8) would probably be thinking about the candy stolen at this point. Other than that, I think it would be a very interesting experiment. Hard to control, but interesting.

  2. This would be an interesting study. I also have wondered about how culture or values would play into the results. It would be interesting if you could get groups from a couple of cultures to see if there was a different response.

  3. I like your post as well as the comments written by vika and richard. Experiments are difficult to control and it would be interesting to see the results based on all the different criteria everyone has mentioned.

  4. Jillian! this is a fun research project- if it was to be done. I also think that results would be fun to see. I see the logic in vikas response, by randomly choosing people of all ages I don't think that you could necessarily know what the outcome would be. People are influenced in all sorts of ways and moved by unexpected things.