Does reading make us more peaceful? Perspective taking and prosocial behaviour

Bachelor / Master thesis project

Does reading make us more peaceful? Perspective taking and prosocial behaviour

Although not everyone chooses to believe it, according to Steven pinker we may be living in the most peaceful era ever. In his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” he discusses how over the past millennia violence has declined enormously, with violent-death rates of about 25 % among Stone Age people to 1 or 2 per 100 000 in modern Western societies. There are a host of explanations for this steady decline, one of the most intriguing is that the spread of novels after the invention of the printing presence and the increase in literacy levels has “trained” our empathic abilities. Novels require people to take the perspective of its main characters, and repeatedly reading novels may have honed our perspective-taking skills, subsequently causing people to become less likely to inflict harm on others. This explanation, however, has yet to be tested!

In a first attempt, Van de Pieterman’s (2015) bachelor thesis research has shown that participants having read a text requiring them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes were more inclined to display prosocial behaviour. The question remains, however, whether this effect will also manifest itself on other behaviours, such as doing harm to or disadvantaging others. A study could be designed, for instance, to test the effect of perspective taking on the tendency to hurt an (imaginary) other person, to cheat on others in a game, or to take a decision that disadvantages someone else.

The current thesis project aims to replicate and, more importantly, extend earlier work regarding the effect of text-induced perspective taking on prosocial behaviour, by conducting a carefully designed experiment.

It is part of an ongoing research project by the dept. Psychology of Conflict, Risk, and Safety; although it is required to (to some extent) base the thesis research on earlier work, students will have ample opportunity to develop ideas of their own.

This project is open to more than one student; they can start as soon as they wish.


Pieterman, Frank van de (2015) The role of perspective taking on prosocial behavior. Bachelor thesis University of Twente,

Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature, Viking Books.



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