This is the summer of Harry Hole for me. Harry is the alcoholic Oslo police detective who solves the murder mysteries created by Jo Nesbo. The plots are intelligent, the characters are engaging and, importantly, Nesbo has written a fair number of these tales. So I’m feeling like my summer beach reading is taken care of.
Selecting a book to read by the water is no trivial matter for me. I want something that’s accessible because well, it’s vacation, and I don’t want anything that resembles work. On the other hand, my past experience with picking pop fiction — thrillers and such — has often been disappointing. I think I want a “page turner,” but I quickly lose interest in formulaic plots and pat characters. They’re simply not interesting.
But what does it mean that a book is interesting? Is interest a universal emotion, like fear or pride or bemusement? How does one person come to be fascinated by mysteries while others are equally entranced by biographies or books about baseball or gardening?
Scientists have shown surprisingly little interest in interest, given its obvious and fundamental connection to learning and education. That’s starting to change. In the past few years a handful of psychologists have started exploring interest in the laboratory, and they are starting to piece together a theory about this curious emotion.
One of the most striking features of interest is that it’s all over the map: One person’s passion for science books is another’s huge yawn, according to psychologist Paul Silvia, who has been exploring interest in his lab at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Interest also comes and goes: A book you found mesmerizing just a few years ago might leave you bored to tears if you tried to reread it today.
Silvia has been trying to dissect this unpredictable mental state. Much of his work involves exposing people to things in the real world that may or may not be interesting: contemporary literature, abstract and classical artwork, and so forth. In one experiment, for example, he had people read an abstract poem, but some were given a small hint about the poem’s meaning while the others were left on their own. When asked later to rate the poem, those who had been given the hint found the work much more interesting. In a similar experiment, students who had studied a little about art history found a modern art gallery much more engaging than did students with no exposure to art.
Silvia thinks he knows what’s going on in these simple experiments, which he summarized a while back in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.
read full news from www.huffingtonpost.com