Designed by Adrijan Karavdic for the Noun Project

Designed by Adrijan Karavdic for the Noun Project

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.

  • Michael Mussman

    How I wish it were true. But simply visit the English department of any university, and see how many professors you find exhibiting high levels of emotional intelligence or empathy.

    • Sasha

      As someone with a B.A. in Literature, I’d have to say quite a lot. 🙂

  • mcatlett

    Hey! Hey now! You leave Goosebumps out of this. 🙂 I don’t know about the emphasis on high-end fiction and empathy, but I know that reading a wide variety is much, much more beneficial than sticking to a genre for developing insights and imaginative solutions. Thanks for this, very interesting.

  • BruceTheBlog

    Or, for a more succinct headline, as long as we’re talking about literature, it makes you “a more rounded person.” “Well” is superfluous.

    • Sasha


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