Reading and Wellbeing
What happens when we read fiction? Despite a substantial body of research demonstrating that our general knowledge, language and literacy skills improve over time, fascinating questions remain about whether, in what instances, and how, reading fiction can support our wellbeing.
In this qualitative research project, similarities and differences across the life span, and across different social contexts, will be explored through interviews with children (aged 9-11), young people (aged 15-17) adults (aged 30-50) and older adults (aged 65+). Through these interviews, we will explore readers’ perceptions of whether, in what instances, and how, narrative fiction contributes to their wellbeing, focusing specifically on positive affect, feelings of connectedness and personal growth.
Readers have been found to report a broad range and depth of positive emotions while reading, for example, relaxed, calm, happy or reassured, particularly during difficult times. Narrative fiction can elicit emotions in the reader, either directly through the characters and events depicted in the story, or indirectly through the cueing of emotionally valenced personal memories. Readers own personal histories and contexts shape their reading of narrative fiction, and fiction books often lead to the recollection of personal experiences and associated emotions.
Narrative fiction frequently portrays the social world we live in and has the potential to fulfil basic human needs for connection. Readers often report feeling connected to fictional characters, but also more connected to those around them, as they develop an enriched understanding of others, a shared understanding of societal issues represented in narrative fiction, and/or talk with others about books.
There is a substantial body of research demonstrating that reading fiction improves language and literacy skills across the lifespan. In addition, narrative fiction has also been found to improve empathy, perspective taking and social cognition, particularly for those readers who are more absorbed in the narrative. Indeed, narrative fiction allows readers to explore personally relevant content, to understand themselves, and others, better.
The project will also consider the role that social context plays in shaping opportunities to read, and how reading fits (or struggles to fit) into the pattern of daily life among demographically different individuals, and during different stages of life, that is, primary school, secondary school, work/family or retirement.
How does reading support our wellbeing? Access the Reading and Wellbeing poster here: RW poster
You can also learn more about this project through our BERA Special Issue blogpost: https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/reading-and-wellbeing-exploring-the-relationship-between-reading-fiction-and-wellbeing-across-the-lifespan
The preregistration from this project can be found here: https://osf.io/n6rfv
This project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. For more information, please contact Dr Nicola Currie: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postdoctoral Researcher: Dr Nicola Currie, University of Edinburgh
Principal Investigator: Dr Sarah McGeown, University of Edinburgh
Co-Investigator: Professor Gemma Moss, Institute of Education, UCL
Katherine Wilkinson, Head of Research and Evaluation, Scottish Book Trust
Christina Clark, Head of Research, National Literacy Trust