Novels may be made up, but the emotions they evoke are real. These feelings grow out of our connection to the novel’s characters and the relationships between a protagonist and others in the context of the broader society. As we follow the ups and downs of a carefully crafted story, we build connections within the social and emotional regions of the brain. The result, according to recent research, is a better understanding of other human beings and a deeper empathy for others, leading to improved social skills. Historians have also claimed that great works of fiction have lent support to the concept of human rights. (For more on the psychology of fiction, see “In the Minds of Others,” by Keith Oatley, Scientific American Mind, November/December 2011.)
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