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Psychologists: Victorian Novels Helped Us Evolve

Victorian literature upheld cooperation, personal sacrifice
By Ambreen Ali,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 14, 2009 6:07 PM CST

(Newser) – Victorian novels didn't just tout moralistic values of 19th-century British society, they helped altruistic genes flourish, a study claims. Evolutionary psychologists say classic characters such as Mr. Darcy and Count Dracula helped instill and promote a sense of right and wrong in society, the Guardian reports, specifically the notion that cooperation trumps individual power.

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These novels functioned much like cautionary oral tales in previous societies, they argue. Take Dorothea in Middlemarch, who shuns wealth to help the poor. Outliers like Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff reflect the costs of maintaining social order. “By enforcing these norms, humans succeed in controlling ‘free riders’ or ‘cheaters’ and made it possible for genuinely altruistic genes to survive,” the researchers claim. (Read more Britain stories.)

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