Uh oh. Apparently, per a study I first read about at The Awl, when we read about violence and aggression, it affects us psychologically and might alter the way we respond when provoked. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I’m on record for loving antiheroes and sociopath protagonists, plus a whole bunch of us represent books with clear violence in them. Should our interns be watching their backs? Or maybe just being careful not to provoke us? I’d hate to accidentally shank someone with my letter opener when they came for help about the copier not working just because I happened to be in the middle of an edit memo to a horror novelist. (Full disclosure, I just googled the difference between “shank” and “shiv” because I wasn’t sure if they were synonymous or if both could be verbs. I watch plenty of police procedurals, so you’d think I’d know, but I’m still not totally sure I’m using it in an appropriate manner. Parts of the un-policed wilds of Urban Dictionary seem to think I’m in the clear. Others seem to disagree, since I won’t be crafting the shanking object myself from a normally non-stabby object. Anyone have an authoritative opinion on the matter?)
I’m having a hard time really wrapping my mind around the distinction that it doesn’t increase aggressiveness, but: “In both cases, provoked people who were given the opportunity to engage in a specific form of retaliatory violence were more likely to do so if they had just read a fictional account of similar activity.” The key here may be provocation and specificity of response, but I’m not entirely sure. Still, it’s an interesting idea, even if it’s not “Hollywood and video games! Who will think of the children?!?!”-style panic.
On the one hand, aggression isn’t good, and retaliatory violence seems ill advised. On the other, it’s good to know that books can impact us in myriad subtle ways. We’re readers here, so we all know books can make us think, laugh, cry. They can move us and transform us. It’s nice to know they can also subtly alter us and change our perceptions, since they’re still more likely to come with some sort of moral or ethical agenda—however nuanced, well crafted, and non-reductive—than plenty of video games and movies. Nice for anyone not getting shanked as a result, at least.*
*No interns were harmed in the making of this blog entry.