A new psychology study from the University of Oklahoma found that people who are well versed with science fiction and fantasy literature are less likely to hold unrealistic beliefs about romance. And though no scientific research can predict whether or not someone will make a good partner, the investigation implies that fans of epic and imaginative tales à la Tolkien, Le Guin, or Vonnegut are mentally equipped to have excellent potential. Hey, no arguments here.
As lead author Stephanie Stern and her colleagues explain in an older, open-access write-up of the investigation, now published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, prior research in media psychology has suggested that exposure to fictional media, because it helps shape our worldviews and social abilities, may engender unhealthy ideas about the way that relationships – particularly romantic relationships – work.
To test this theory, the researchers recruited 404 adult men and women through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing database and asked them to fill out online versions of the Genre Familiarity Test and the Relationship Belief Inventory. The former assessed participants’ knowledge of seven written fiction genres by asking them to identify authors they recognized from 105 names of real authors and 45 trick names.
The latter survey measured the degree to which individuals support five maladaptive beliefs about relationships: disagreement is destructive, mindreading is expected (you should always be able to tell what your partner is thinking), romantic partners cannot change, the sexes are (inherently) different, and sexual perfectionism (basically, all instances of sexual activity should be fantastic). Respondents were asked to rate, using a six-point scale, how much they agreed with 12 statements for each concept. For example, “When couples disagree, it seems like the relationship is falling apart,” or “People who have a close relationship can sense each other’s needs as if they could read each other’s minds.”
After analyzing the data, Stern’s team found that subjects who were familiar with both classics and sci-fi/fantasy were significantly more likely to score low – meaning they have realistic expectations – on the scale for disagreement is destructive, following statistical adjustment for differences in personality traits and gender. Low scores on the mindreading, partners cannot change, and the sexes are different belief categories were only associated with a strong knowledge of sci-fi/fantasy. Interestingly, but not wholly unexpectedly, people with a lot of exposure to romance novels were significantly more likely than others to score highly on the sexes are different scale.
Scores on the unhelpful belief of sexual perfectionism were not associated with any particular genre.
Of course, these results are merely correlations, a fact that the authors readily admit. “While it is possible that exposure to fiction causes readers to change their beliefs about relationships, it is also possible that, when selecting what type of book we want to read, we are more likely to choose a genre that supports the beliefs we already hold about relationships,” they wrote.
“For example, to the extent that characters in romance novels display strong traditional gender roles, this could appeal to a reader who already believes that the sexes are different. Similarly, a third variable – such as education, imagination, prior experience with romantic relationships, and transportation – could underlie the relationships found in this experiment.”
But if you’re looking for love and willing to gamble on causality in psychology studies, we recommend heading to a library and scoping for cuties while checking out Dune.
[H/T: Big Think]