Many of us enjoy a good book, and while we can usually identify what we like about it—interesting characters, an intriguing plot, the setting, etc.—we don’t always think more deeply about how those specific qualities connect with us. We certainly do feel them, however, and those evoked emotions are just one area in which psychology and literature meet. Here we’ll discuss that intersection further with a couple of examples from the writer’s perspective and a couple from the reader’s perspective. 

The Writer’s Perspective 

Creating a Character That’s Like a Real Person 

As a writer creates a character, they consider that character’s motivations, emotions, past experiences, and other psychological factors that will drive their actions throughout the narrative. This aids in making a character believable and relatable to the reader. By giving them a distinctive personality, habits, and quirks, the writer also makes them a multidimensional character—more like an actual human being. Though one-dimensional characters can serve a purpose in a story, a multidimensional character is much more interesting to the reader. 

Eliciting a Psychological Response That Inspires Action 

Through their stories and characters, writers often endeavor to elicit thoughts and emotions from their readers that inspire action or inspire a change in mindset that leads to action, such as: 

The Reader’s Perspective 

Identifying With the Bad Guy 

Psychology and literature intersect in a very dramatic way in first-person stories. These give readers perhaps the most comprehensive view of the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind, though since we only know what they tell us, we must consider that they may be unreliable narrators. The first-person voice facilitates readers’ empathy and identification with characters, even unlikable ones: 

Richard III, the eponymous character of the William Shakespeare play, is one example. He is physically deformed from birth, and this garners some sympathy from the reader, but his true flaw is a murderous lust for power that leads him to order the death of his two young nephews and others who might stand in his way.  

Alex, the sociopathic main character of the Anthony Burgess novel “A Clockwork Orange,” leads us through his gang activities—beatings, rapes, and robberies—his eventual imprisonment, his ostensible rehabilitation through aversion therapy, and the aftermath. Yet he possesses a certain charm and sophistication that almost makes him a sympathetic character. 

Bolstering Mental Health Through Reading 

Reading can help sharpen the mind, stave off dementia, reduce stress, and increase our ability to think critically and empathetically—all while sparking the imagination and providing a temporary escape from everyday concerns. As stated in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, “attentive immersion in great literature can help relieve, restore, and reinvigorate the troubled mind—and can play a part in relieving stress and anxiety, as well as other troubled states of mind.”  

This is supported to the extent that a practice called “creative bibliotherapy,” or the reading of literature in a guided or group setting, is being used to promote prosocial behavior and minimize aggression, depression, and anxiety among participants.  

Get Motivated to Earn Your Degree! 

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers two enriching online degree programs that will give the literature lover in you a deeper appreciation of the art form. 

Online Bachelor of Arts in English 

If you’re just getting started on your college journey—whether you’re looking at some degrees or have already earned a few credits but haven’t declared a major—this program provides a clear path forward. Our BA in English equips you with valuable skills that will benefit you throughout all your personal and professional endeavors. As you complete your degree, you’ll: 

  • Develop the soft and durable skills today’s employers are seeking in job candidates. 
  • Broaden your knowledge through a diverse selection of general education courses. 
  • Expand your awareness of global perspectives. 
  • Lay the foundation for graduate English studies. 
  • Prepare for law school with a curriculum that aligns with the LSAT. 

If you want to learn more about how psychology and literature connect, or even psychology as a stand-alone subject, these BA in English courses may interest you: 

Online Master of Arts in English 

If you already have a bachelor’s degree or are in the process of completing one, this program will enable you to further cultivate your appreciation for the English language and culture. You’ll enjoy unique opportunities, including the ability to: 

  • Earn a degree that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states can lead to 16% higher earnings than a bachelor’s degree. 
  • Continue your studies from our BA in English program. 
  • Complete your choice of four capstone courses—a flexible option you won’t find elsewhere. 
  • Graduate in as little as a year and a half. 

If you want to learn more about psychology in a literary context and beyond, these MA in English courses may interest you: 

Get more program details and apply today!