Studies have shown that stories are key to the most fundamental parts of our lives:
Stories are so powerful they can fulfill our need for belonging when we are lonely.
Fiction actually makes us into nicer, kinder people.
How does it do this?
That leads us to the dark side…
Often it works its magic by misrepresenting the world. Fiction makes us more prosocial by making our perspective less accurate:
In Appel’s study, people who mainly watched drama and comedy on TV — as opposed to heavy viewers of news programs and documentaries — had substantially stronger “just-world” beliefs. Appel concludes that fiction, by constantly exposing us to the theme of poetic justice, may be partly responsible for the sense that the world is, on the whole, a just place.
This is despite the fact, as Appel puts it, “that this is patently not the case.” As people who watch the news know very well, bad things happen to good people all the time, and most crimes go unpunished. In other words, fiction seems to teach us to see the world through rose-colored lenses. And the fact that we see the world that way seems to be an important part of what makes human societies work.
We perceive public figures on television no differently than fictional characters like Superman or Dracula. Many of us use TV “relationships” as a substitute for real relationships and when our favorite shows go off the air, losing those characters is like a real life break-up. This is a prescription for unhappiness.
Fundamentally, our brains may not be able to tell the difference between the real and the story.
Stories are key to meaning, happiness and unity. They can also misrepresent and distort.
It’s no surprise that dictators burn books, create propaganda, ban religion and fear artists.
Makes me wonder whether I should be more or less picky about what stories I read and watch.
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