NWO funding for Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture

NWO-subsidie voor Erasmus Research Centre for Media,

The Erasmus Centre of Media, Communication and Culture (ERMeCC) has received a € 200,000 grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for a study into the effects on readers of reading narratives on suffering. For the next four years, and under supervision of Prof. dr. Susanne Janssen (EUR) and Dr. Els Andringa (UU), literary scholar and psychologist Emy Koopman will be working on her PhD-project entitled Reading Suffering. An Empirical Enquiry into Emotional, Intellectual and Ethical Responses to Narratives of Mental and Physical Pain. 

Literary scholars often claim positive effects of literature (novels, stories, poetry) without there being empirical evidence to back up these claims. Amongst others, Susan Sontag and Martha Nussnaum have stated that literary texts can increase our empathic and critical capacity. The current project consists of a series of experiments on reader responses to various narrative texts on suffering, followed by a qualitative study on the same subject. The project aims to measure the impact of specific textual features on the feelings and thoughts of readers. 

The focus of the project is on texts on suffering, since these can be expected to trigger strong emotional reactions, both positive and negative. Earlier reader response studies have almost exclusively focused on positive emotions, while negative emotions may be more likely to evoke ethical reflection. This project will examine which personality traits and textual features make people more responsive to narrative texts on suffering? What is the relation between various emotional responses (from empathy to disgust) and personal resonance to a text, and what impact does this have on ethical and/or intellectual reflection? To what extent does knowledge on the status of the text (literary vs. non-fiction) influence readers’ responses? By addressing these questions, this project seeks to extend and deepen our understanding of the complex of factors that shapes readers’ emotional, intellectual and ethical reactions to a text.

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