The wonderful Michael Kevane (of Friends of African Village Libraries fame) has recently produced a short video (below) about his time as a Fulbright Scholar in Burkina Faso.
He wanted to discover whether reading fiction affects the economic preferences of individuals. By ‘economic preferences’ he means trust, contribution to public good, risk-taking and patience.
The resulting research paper makes for fascinating reading. It concludes:
Much as advocates of reading fiction would like to believe that reading transforms lives, deepens empathy, and develops better intuitions about the interior lives of others, the reality is more likely to be that effects are small or short-lived.
Or, as he phrases it in the video:
Reading makes better readers but not necessarily better humans.
As an author of books for young adults, it would be lovely to think that my ilk are saving the world. And no doubt Michael, as a champion of African village libraries, would have been pleased if his research had uncovered a clear link between reading and development. Alas, this is not the case. Reading provides relaxation, enjoyment and solace, but that’s pretty much all.