Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What does the book you read say about you?

Is it possible to make judgments about a person's attitudes based solely upon their choice of reading matter? A study that was published late last month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior makes the claim that that may be the case in at least one instance.

The researchers gave 715 women between the ages of 18 to 24 a survey based on the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, an exercise that measures attitudes that correspond with both benevolent and hostile sexism. Benevolent sexism was evinced on the survey by statements like “A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man” and holds that men should take care of and provide for women. Hostile sexism, รก la “Women are too easily offended,” regards women as straight-up inferior to men. (Hmm...wonder how a certain orange-tinted presidential candidate would score on the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory?) 

The researchers then asked the women whether or not they had read all or any part of Fifty Shades of Grey and they correlated the responses. They found that young women who had read some or all of the Grey series exhibit more and stronger sexist beliefs than those who had not. The correlation was particularly strong among those who’d read the books and considered them “romantic.”

Moreover, the research showed that women who had read the entire first book displayed a higher propensity for sexism than those who hadn’t finished the book or had never read it. Those who ranked higher on the hostile sexism scale had read part or all of the series and interpreted it as “hot” and “romantic.”  Women who described the book(s) as “romantic” were more likely to hold beliefs that aligned them with the benevolent sexism spectrum. The survey participants who called the series “degrading” ranked lower on the sexism scale.

Now, I find this very interesting, but - full disclosure and disclaimer - I have not read any of the Fifty Shades of Grey series and have no wish to; however, I am all about everyone making his or her own reading choices and reading whatever gives them pleasure, and I make no personal judgments about their choices. (Well, that may not be entirely true. For example, if someone chooses to read something like Mein Kampf, I might make some assumptions about them.) 

The story that I read about this in Slate referred to an earlier study that was done in 2014 that found that Fifty Shades of Grey readers were more likely to exhibit destructive behavior and accept abusive behavior from a partner. Perhaps there is a pattern here that could apply broadly to Fifty Shades of Grey readers, but I would maintain that there are always individual exceptions to that pattern as there are all kinds of reasons for a reader to pick up a particular book. Maybe that reader of Mein Kampf is doing research on extremist philosophies.

All of which started me thinking about what my choice of reading material might say about me. Looking at the books that I've read so far in 2016, it's quite obvious that my choices tilt toward mysteries of all kinds, but there is a lot of overlap between that genre and historical fiction which also ranks as my second most often chosen type of reading material. Next comes literary fiction, then nonfiction, thrillers, and, finally, fantasy. So, I'm sort of all over the map, it seems. Maybe my choices just indicate that I am a person of vacillating, dithering, indecisive reading tastes.

What does your choice of books say about you? 


6 comments:

  1. It's funny that you bring up that topic because I was thinking about it last night. I know people who have made inferences about me based on what I read and the movies I watch. I think it is wrong to do that, but that usually comes from idiots who may be non readers and uninformed people in general. The books in question are by Daniel Silva and the movies in question are the Millennium trilogy.
    I typically lean towards historical fiction, thrillers, political thrillers/espionage, contemporary fiction (less so), poetry and lately nonfiction.

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    1. In general, I think it is dangerous and unfair to make assumptions about people based on their choice of reading material, because, as I tried to indicate in the post, there might be all kinds of reasons for choosing a particular book and reading it doesn't necessarily mean that the reader agrees with it.

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  2. I would classify your reading tastes as broad, not indecisive. Broad is good and that is not meant in a sexist way-:)

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    1. Broad in a non-sexist way - yes, I like that!

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  3. Some of my friends are incredibly intelligent women in highly responsible jobs and they read the most appalling nonsense on holiday. If we did a survey on their reading choices during those two weeks, we might conclude things about them which are simply not true. For the other 50 weeks of the year, the picture is quite different! As for me, I read mostly gardening books. I guess we all know what that means ;-)

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    1. I think we do, Sarah. I, myself, dip into gardening books, field guides, and poetry books on a regular basis. That's my extracurricular reading. Seldom do I read one of them cover to cover, so I guess I can't say I always finish books, can I?

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