Reading has always been a solitary pursuit, and so often carries the connotation of introversion or social awkwardness. However, recent findings in Science prove quite the opposite — namely that the more you read, the more empathetic and socially aware you are.
Earlier this month, a research paper was published in the journal Science which put forward evidence that social skills are improved by the reading of fiction—and specifically the high-end stuff: the 19th-century Russians, the European modernists, the contemporary prestige names. The experiment, conducted by psychologists Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd, found that the subjects who read extracts from literary novels, and then immediately afterward took tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence (looking at photos of people’s eyes and guessing what emotions they might be going through), performed significantly better on the tests than other subjects who read serious nonfiction or genre fiction. Their basic finding was that reading literary fiction, and literary fiction alone, temporarily enhances what’s known as Theory of Mind—the ability to imagine and understand the mental states of others.
Unfortunately, not just any book of fiction will count (all those years of Goosebumps, wasted!). There’s still a large amount of controversy over what makes a book literary fiction and another mainstream fiction, but in general literature tends to focus more on character development, the excellence of the prose (i.e. good writing), and delves into hard, complex issues that are not easily answered, if at all.
Read the rest here.