Detective in the service of science

Anthropologist, two linguists, a psychologist and author of detective novels: this five have proven that through books we can become better.

“The trainer suffered defeat after defeat, then he came up with the idea to use a cigarette. With one hand he grabbed the monkey by the throat and another threw her hood up. Knowing that the captured animal will not be able to bite, he took the cigarette from his mouth and put it against a tiny heel. A piercing scream switched to falsetto, wrapped in a huge hooded body monkeys huddled in convulsions, the parasympathetic nervous system reacted to the sphincter relaxation”. This fragment of the book of Marek Krajewski (Krajewski Marek) “Lord of the numbers” used in his interdisciplinary study, a group of scientists from Wroclaw University: two researchers of the Department of Polish Philology — Cienski Marcin (Marcin Cieński) and head of the experiment, the presentation of Malecki (Wojciech Małecki) and anthropologist Boguslaw Pawlowski (Bogusław Pawłowski) and psychologist Peter Sorokowski (Piotr Sorokowski). With the collaboration of writer, scientists have found that emotive scenes from books can change our thinking and the moral evaluations we make.

The poor monkey

Researchers have long believe that reading has an impact on our personality. “Widely known, for example, the hypothesis of Professor Steven Pinker (Steven Pinker), who believes that the spread in the XVIII century the genre of the novel contributed to the decline in the level of violence in the world”, — says the presentation of Malecki. All this, however, until recently, remained in the sphere of hypotheses, as how to measure the impact of literature on thinking and morality? Malecki came up with an unusual way: he was invited to cooperate with the famous Polish author of detective novels by Marek Krajewski, who worked on the book “Lord of the numbers”. Scientists took advantage of the situation and asked the writer to enter in a book an additional motive. “It was that it appeared the scene of the abuse of some animals,” says Krajewski.

Scientists complete freedom of the writer was not given. “I’ve had many limitations, firstly, in the choice of the animal. It couldn’t be neither a dog nor a cat, so we decided to choose a monkey,” — says Krajewski. Why is it? “We wanted it to have a pet with whom the person had a strong emotional connection. It was someone evolutionary close to us, whose feelings we can understand,” explains Boguslaw Pawlowski. The monkey was the perfect choice, especially as the writer managed to seamlessly introduce her story into a novel. “I had to make this piece did not seem to readers artificial. Fortunately, the motif of monkey carmensita perfectly fit the narrative,” says the writer.

Writing an episode with a monkey, Marek Krajewski has announced on its website the contest, which consisted in the fact that readers were given the opportunity to read one of two fragments of the new novel, and instead had to fill out a questionnaire prepared by the scientists. To participate in the experiment signed up 1833 of a person at the age from 14 to 81 years. “Some have received a fragment with a scene of abuse of a monkey kloto, others quite different, emotionally neutral episode, which was not mentioned any animals,” says Boguslaw Pawlowski.

In the questionnaire the scientists were asked questions about their ethical, developing new medications for people to experiment on animals, and whether to ban the hunting of dolphins and whales. What happened? “Those study participants who got the fragment about the monkey, showed great concern about the welfare of animals than those who read neutral fragment. Importantly, this sensitivity is extended not only to monkeys, but all animals in General,” said Malecki.

Moral readers

Experiment Polish scientists confirmed the thesis about beneficial effects of literature. In this case it was about changing attitudes to animals, however, other studies have shown that under the influence of literature can also change our attitude towards people. Reading, for example, can greatly reduce the fear of those who are different from us. This was proved by scientists from Padua and Modena universities, which studied the changing attitudes of children and adolescents refugees, immigrants and homosexuals influenced by books about Harry Potter. The researchers found that identifying with the hero of the novels, the children showed more empathy and tolerance towards the social groups to which they had reacted negatively. A similar effect, as shown by Dan Johnson (Dan R. Johnson) from Washington and Lee University, can also be observed in adults. He invited participants to read a story about different from the stereotypes of Muslim women, and then gave them the photos of people, asking them to divide them into two groups: whites and Arabs. It turned out that the people who read the story noticed less racial differences and see more similarities between people of different origin on the photos than a control group who did not read the text. In the next experiment, participants had to distribute photos on the same principle, however, the people in the pictures expressing different emotions. It turned out that the more anger was expressed by the person, the more he was called belonging to the man with Arab origins. Read stories about Muslim women, in turn, reduced the tendency to attribute aggression to the “other”.

The only question is, will last to whether this new attitude towards animals or people who are different people more than a few days or weeks? “We don’t know that, in our study, we could test the reaction of people directly after reading the text. However, some experiments that were conducted in the world show that these changes can be sustainable,” says Boguslaw Pawlowski. Especially if the imaged scene, as it turned out, Marek Krajewski, will make the readers really strong impression. “Because of the episode with the abuse of a monkey kloto I lost my reader, — says the writer. — She wrote to me that reading these episodes became too much for her painful experience, because she won’t buy my books. I would like to know why I did it.”

The novel is a powerful weapon, more powerful than the literature of fact or documentary films depicting scenes of violence against animals. “People are trying not to watch such films because of violent images, explains the presentation of Malecki. — In the novel this theme, you can “sneak in the back door”, using emotional involvement of the reader in the story. Therefore, the literature so effectively affects our consciousness”. “Although I was surprised how big the force of that impact, I’m not to impose such motifs in their books — says Marek Krajewski. But participation in this project was for me an interesting experience including the writer’s point of view. Every effort should be made to stop violence against animals.”