5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature

The world of literature is not all make believe. While psychology and literature seem to be two contrasting subjects, but they share many identical features. Literary elements can teach us a lot about the science of psychology. Through literature, we learn about human emotions, mental illness, and more. Continue reading for 5 things we can learn about psychology through literature.

5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature
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What is Psychology? 

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind. It focuses on how the brain functions to influence behavior in humans and animals. Conscious and unconscious complex brain processes like cognitive skills (i.e., memory, perception, attention), intelligence, communication motivation, emotions, and learning are all integral to the science of psychology. The overall goal of psychology is to improve problems in day-to-day life.

What is Literature? 

Literature is a broad term describing a group of works of art comprised of words. The majority of the time, literature refers to written words. However, it also entails words spoken by word of mouth. Written literature consists of fiction—specifically novels, prose, poetry, and dramas. They apply components such as character, setting, plot, theme, exposition, narrative, point of view, and tone to tell a story.

How are Psychology and Literature Related? 

Psychology and literature are closely related. Both offer similar perspective into human thinking processes and behavior. They lend insight into our desires, how people interaction, consequences for certain behaviors, and learning. Simply the act of reading a work of literature can evoke the very emotions that psychologists study. Literature is particularly helpful for psychologists because it gives various perspectives of real and hypothetical situations they would not have access to study otherwise.

5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature: Emotions Are Normal 

Although fiction, characters in books experience the same challenges we do. Whether the characters are realistic or made-up creatures, they experience emotions. They suffer from loss and heartbreak. They also feel joy from their accomplishments and fall in love. At times, we feel alone in our emotions as if nobody else understands. Through literature, we learn that basic human emotions like happiness, sadness, rage, guilt, jealously, and pride are universal. This is also beneficial to our relationships. When we cannot discern what others are feeling and why, literature offers an in-depth explanation of the reason behind certain emotions.

5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature: Human Diversity and Culture 

Books allow us to explore destinations we have never traveled to and expose us to characters of diverse backgrounds. Through reading, we can glimpse into cultural differences. Food, music, holidays, ways of communicating, and specific behaviors vary from culture to culture. However, most do not understand because they do not encounter such diversity in their home country. As we are familiar with these cultural factors, we become more apt to accept the differences of others.

5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature
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5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature: Insight into Mental Illness 

According to the Community Health Network, the top three mental illnesses in the United States are anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. Anxiety disorders cause excessive worry and fear about common, everyday situations. Depression and bipolar disorder are two mood disorders characterized by unexplained persistent sadness and rapid fluctuations in mood. Unfortunately, negative stigmas are attached to mental illness. For example, someone with a mental illness may be stereotyped as dangerous, incompetent, or assumed to have low self-esteem. Many works of literature include characters with mental illness. Literature can help those with a mental illness diagnosis confront negative stigma, and teach the healthy population not to adopt attitudes that fuel the stigma.

5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature: Thinking Skills 

Psychology, especially experimental psychology, relies on the scientific method. The scientific method involves higher thinking processes. As a psychologist makes an observation from their environment, they ask questions to gather information and form a testable hypothesis. They then test their predictions to either confirm or reject their original question. This is how they obtain the data we now know as facts regarding human emotions and behavior.

The plots of stories in literature are not necessarily science, but readers apply critical thinking to inference and predict sequences of events. The cognitive skills (i.e., attention, processing, memory, logic, reasoning) used in science are helpful to readers of literature.

5 Things We Can Learn About Psychology Through Literature: Writing Is Psychology

Psychology is a key component to writing the stories we consider literature. An author must incorporate how humans think, feel, and act into the various personalities of their characters. Every character in literature possesses a personality. Realistic characters interact with each other through body language and direct dialogue. Even if the author accomplishes this through metaphorical language, psychology is still present in the text. In essence, psychology is connected to the overall problem and its resolution.

Important Psychological Works to Read

Literature does not have to be non-fiction to learn about psychology. Did you know some of the renown psychologists have written novels? Be sure to check out the following titles to learn more about the science of psychology through literature:

  • When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Everything I never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Guest List by Lucy Foley
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston