The current study aimed to explore the mechanisms of ‘therapeutic’ functions of literature for non-clinical subjects who use reading as a coping mechanism. It was hypothesized that narrative feelings (identification with the character and feeling absorbed in the narrative world) and aesthetic feelings (attention to and appreciation of stylistic features) correlate positively with feelings of catharsis and insight. An online survey was conducted, asking non-clinical respondents (N=55) of two different age groups (18-35 and 55-80) to report on a literary work that helped them to get through a difficult time in their lives. For age group, no relevant significant differences were found. The rest of the results mostly confirmed hypotheses derived from theory on bibliotherapy regarding the importance of recognition, identification, insight and catharsis. Narrative feelings correlated positively with catharsis and insight. Aesthetic feelings did not. Aesthetic feelings, however, correlated with absorption and with experiencing more thoughts during reading, while Narrative feelings seemed to go together with a more emotional response. The most important predictor for catharsis turned out to be ‘distraction’, except for poetry readers, for whom ‘identification’ was the most important predictor for catharsis. The most important predictor of insight was ‘recognition’.

aesthetic feelings, catharsis, coping, insight, literature, narrative feelings, poetry, recognition,
ERMeCC - Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture
Scientific Study of Literature
Department of Media and Communication

Koopman, E.M. (2011). Predictors of insight and catharsis among readers who use literature as a coping strategy. Scientific Study of Literature, 1(2), 241–259. doi:10.1075/ssol.1.2.04koo