Reading is good for you—and society

Study: Victorian novels encourage social cohesion

Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen and even Bram Stoker weren’t just good storytellers; their novels were beneficial tools in encouraging social cohesion. This according to a new study by American researchers how Darwinian concepts of evolution apply to novels. They asked 500 readers questions on 200 Victorian novels and invited them to describe antagonists and protagonists in the stories. The readers described “bad guys” in the stories as “powerfully stigmatized,” not good for the egalitarian dynamics of society, while heroes often sacrifice their own interests for the greater good of their communities. “Maybe storytelling – from TV to folk tales – actually serves some specific evolutionary function,” says researcher Jonathan Gottschall. “They’re not just by-products of evolutionary adaptation.”