As parents, for example, we urge our children to discover what will engage them, in a career perhaps, or in a relationship. And although we may wish that a spouse would be a bit more like this or that, we also know that the best kind of love enables someone to become his or her own true self.
Could a writer have an indirect influence of this kind, getting readers to think about themselves anew? We believe so. Indeed, in several studies over the past few years, we have found evidence that such influence is characteristic of literary art.
In one experiment, published in 2009 in the Creativity Research Journal, we and the psychologists Sara Zoeterman and Jordan B. Peterson randomly assigned participants to one of two groups: one whose members read “The Lady With the Dog,” an Anton Chekhov short story centered on marital infidelity, and another whose members read a “nonfictionalized” version of the story, written in the form of a report from a divorce court.