Why don’t people read serious literature? We hypothesized that people’s avoidance of the classics may stem from affective forecasting errors, rooted in prior negative experiences. Research on affective forecasting shows people expect good events to be more positive, and bad events to be more negative, than they actually are, and that these feelings will last for longer than they actually do (i.e., the impact bias, Wilson & Gilbert, 2005). When it comes to reading, we predict that people (incorrectly) believe that reading classic novels will be more difficult and (thus) less enjoyable, while reading contemporary novels will be easier and (thus) more enjoyable. One reason for these errors is overestimation of future negativity due to incorrect lay theories stemming from inaccurate recall of past events (Morewedge, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2005). When people recall their memories of reading the “classics,” they often bring to mind memories of mandatory reading of difficult and often unrelatable novels. Thus, people may recall negative experiences when picking up a classic novel, and feel discouraged from doing so.
The purpose of proposed research is to examine people’s preferences for contemporary versus classic literature and whether their affective forecast beforehand matches with the actual reading experience. In other words, are people right to predict they will enjoy reading contemporary literature more than classic literature? Furthermore, we will also manipulate people’s expectations of perceived difficulty to examine whether we can shift their feelings regarding classic and contemporary novels.