As bluestockings, we know full well that reading makes us better people. But now we have scientific proof! Last week, Science magazine published this study by psychologists from The New School for Social Research which found that people who read literary fiction displayed higher levels of empathy, emotional intelligence, and social perception than those who read popular fiction or serious nonfiction.
Researchers Emanuele Costano and David Kidd set out to measure their subjects’ affective and cognitive “Theory of Mind,” defined here as the ability to “understand others’ mental states…enabl[ing] the complex social relationships that characterize human societies.” First, they asked study participants to read samples from award-winning literary fiction (such as Don DeLillo and Louise Erdrich), popular fiction (Danielle Steele and Robert Heinlein), non-fiction articles from Smithsonian Magazine, or nothing at all. Next, they administered tests designed to measure the subjects’ “ability to decode emotions or predict a person’s expectations or beliefs in a particular scenario.” The results? Those who read literary fiction scored markedly higher than those who read the popular fiction, nonfiction, or nothing at all.
But why? Continue reading