Bookish Research: Counter stereotypes

Hey guys, welcome to my first official research post! 

The main topic I’ve been looking into these past few weeks on how counter stereotypes have an impact on people. So first, of course, it’s important to know what a counter stereotype is. As the name suggests, it’s any kind of representation that goes against the stereotype. For example, if a book were to have a character who was a very successful female scientist, this would be a counter stereotype because most representations of successful scientists are male. 

Counter stereotypes have been researched in soooo many contexts, but as this project is about books, I chose to focus most of my studying specifically on the effects of reading about counter stereotypical book characters. And let me tell you, I was actually surprised at just how much research I found! The best part though is that almost all of the studies I read seem to point to the same finding: reading counter stereotypical characters in fiction can reduce prejudice.

There are a few reasons that this may be the case. Some researchers believe that because fiction involves the simulation of the social world, it can allow for understanding of people who are different from us. And because fiction is able to span many other cultures that may not be otherwise be possible, it can be a powerful tool. Others think that fiction may allow people to confront members of different groups in a way that does not provoke anxiety (since there is no direct confrontation).

One study I found especially interesting involved having people read a counter stereotypical fictional story about an Arab/Muslim person. Participants were assigned to either read a full narrative story (an excerpt from the novel Saffron Dreams), a condensed version of the story (a one page summary), or a non-narrative story. They were then given several questionnaires including: a six question survey to measure their levels of empathy toward Arab/Muslims, an implicit bias test, a survey measuring explicit bias, and a survey asking questions pertaining to how vivid they found the story (imagery, characters, and events). People who read the full narrative story had lower levels of prejudice, and benefitted from taking the perspective of the characters even without explicit instructions to do so.

Although this is just one example, several other people have found similar results with regards to narrative fiction, as well as some other forms of media. Already it’s clear how important diverse books are. They offer us the opportunity to engage with so many other experiences different from our own, and they may even make us better people in the process. Next week I’m going to further delve in to the power of book by looking specifically at how they impact children, so keep a lookout for my next post!

If you enjoyed this, learned something new, or have any questions/comments please leave a comment below. And as always, happy reading!

Sources:
The Function of Fiction is the Abstraction and Simulation of Social Experience
Reading Narrative Fiction Reduces Arab-Muslim Prejudice and Offers a Safe Haven From Intergroup Anxiety
This Story Is Not for Everyone: Transportability and Narrative Persuasion

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30 thoughts on “Bookish Research: Counter stereotypes

  1. This makes a lot of sense given what’s been reported about other media, things like British folks having kinder and more nuanced views on Muslims after Nadiya Hussain was on the Great British Baking Show. It’s really cool to see that results show that it works with books and written stories as well as visual media.

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    1. Of course! In the specific study I talk about, the narrative condition consisted of an excerpt from the novel “Saffron Dreams” and in the non-narrative condition participants read a brief history of the automobile. I would have to double check the other studies I read to see what their specific books were if you’d like!

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  2. Interesting research. I wonder if the results are long-term in the studies? For instance if someone just reads what they are given and immediately takes a test would they still have the same level of empathy or understanding a year out? If they haven’t read anything else? Does it last or do people need a consistent level of exposure?

    I look forward to reading more of your research!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is an awesome question!! Unfortunately, there is not much data showing how long lasting effects are. However, there are some debates even in the short term about results. Some studies seem to find that even reading a short fictional passage can have profound results, while other such as this one: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-020-00686-4) show that shorter exposures to fiction may be less effective at promoting changes in behavior/attitudes. I will let you know if I come across any studies that measure the long-term!

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  3. Hi J, very interesting topic about counter stereotypes. Heard it for the first time and I totally agree with your view that such characters can make us better people in the progress. I thought of the protagonist couple on the Schitt’s creek series, who are casted to be very accepting parents of their gay son. It’s shown so naturally that even viewers develop a more accepting view of it in spite of what their personal opinion might have been.

    Let’s root for more counter stereotypes 🙂

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  4. I completely agree with this concept. It’s why I also think people learn more/retain more information about things like a historical event if they’re presented in a way that is engaging and entertaining – and probably why students just zone things they have to learn from a dry, boring textbook. I’m all for ANYTHING that helps make the world a more accepting, kind place.

    (Glad to have found your blog! This was a fun read with my morning tea today.)

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  5. I tend to see reading fiction as a cheat key that allows me to experience a multitude of varying lives alongside my actual one. 😁 I know it’s not really the same as a full lived experience. After all, I can close a book and walk away, and I’m investing a relatively short amount of time compared to a complete life. Still, it’s nice to know that science backs up the benefits of peering into other possible lives.

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