Very little is known about the connections between fiction and eating disorders: there’s plenty of research on the (usually negative) effects of the mass media on body image, and there’s increasing interest among researchers and clinicians in ‘creative bibliotherapy’ – the use of creative writing including fiction for therapeutic purposes – in other mental health contexts. But so far research at the intersection of the study of eating disorders and fiction is very limited. A new collaboration between Emily Troscianko, Knowledge Exchange Fellow at TORCH, and the leading UK eating disorders charity Beat, aims to build on related research to find out more.
The first phase of the partnership involves an online survey which asks respondents about their reading habits and how they think reading may relate to aspects of their mental health, with a particular focus on disordered eating. We hope to gather responses from a wide range of people, with and without personal experience of an eating disorder. The survey results will be used to help shape the design of a set of experiments investigating possible causal relationships between texts and readers.
Our hope is that this innovative interdisciplinary research project will help broaden our understanding of the influence of cultural factors on how eating disorders arise, develop, and are recovered from, and ultimately suggest ways of enhancing our understanding and treatment of eating disorders by taking account of the role of fiction-reading. We also hope that the project will contribute to the study of literature by showing how taking individual differences between readers seriously can be relevant to understanding literature as an object of interpretation. More concretely, a shorter-term aim is to feed into the Beat helpline’s new book review initiative with evidence-based guidelines about what fictional texts may be helpful to sufferers, friends, and carers.
If you’re interested in our project and would like to take part, we’d be extremely grateful if you were able to help by completing and/or sharing our survey, which you can find here.
Dr Emily T. Troscianko, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities