mercredi 4 janvier 2012

A Whole New World

When we open a book, it seems that we really do enter, as far as our brains are concerned, a new world - one conjured not just out of the author's words but out of our own memories and desires - and it is our cognitive immersion in that world that gives reading its rich emotional force. Psychologists draw a distinction between two kinds of emotions that can be inspired by a work of art. There are the "aesthetic emotions" that we feel when we view art from a distance, as a spectator: a sense of beauty or of wonder, for instance, or a feeling of awe at the artist's craft or the work's unity. These are the emotions that Montaigne likely had in mind when he spoke of the languid pleasure of reading. And then there are the "narrative emotions" we experience when, through the sympathetic actions of our nervous system, we become part of a story, when the distance between the attendee and the attended evaporates. These are the emotions Emerson may have had in mind when he described the spermatic, life-giving force of a "true book." ...

A recent experiment conducted by Oatley and three colleagues suggests that the emotions stirred by literature can even alter, in subtle but real ways, people's personalities. The researchers recruited 166 university students and gave them a standard personality test that measures such traits as extraversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. One group of the participants read the Chekhov short story "The Lady with the Toy Dog," while a control group read a synopsis of the story's events, stripped of its literary qualities. Both groups then took the personality test again. The results revealed that the people "who read the short story experienced significantly greater change in personality than the control group," and the effect appeared to be tied to the strong emotional response that the story provoked. What was particularly interesting, Oatley says, is that the readers "all changed in somewhat different ways." A book is rewritten in the mind of every reader, and the book rewrites each reader's mind in a unique way, too.

Source: Nicholas Carr's Blog: Thinking about reading (via

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