Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's Official - Fiction Readers are Better People

We've known it since forever, but now it's official: reading fiction turns you into a much better person.

[Found via] The British Pschiatric Society Research Digest reports that reading novels is linked with increased empathy:
The more fiction a person reads, the more empathy they have and the better they perform on tests of social understanding and awareness. By contrast, reading more non-fiction, fact-based books shows the opposite association.
A study entitled Bookworms Versus Nerds, Exposure to Fiction versus Non-fiction, Divergent Associations with Social Ability, and the Simulation of Fictional Social Worlds: was carried out by Raymond Mar and colleagues at the University of Toronto (and - oh miraculous internet which maketh the impossible possible in the blink of an eye - can be read in full here!!). The BPS article goes on:
Finding out how much people read is always difficult because it’s socially desirable for people to report that they read a lot. Mar and colleagues avoided this by asking 94 participants to identify the names of fiction and non-fiction authors embedded in a long list of names that also included non-authors. Prior research has shown this test correlates well with how much people actually read. Among the authors listed were Matt Ridley, Naomi Wolf (non-fiction), Toni Morrison and PD James (fiction).

The more authors of fiction that a participant recognised, the higher they tended to score on measures of social awareness and tests of empathy – for example being able to recognise a person’s emotions from a picture showing their eyes only, or being able to take another person’s perspective. Recognising more non-fiction authors showed the opposite association.

The researchers surmised that reading fiction could improve people’s social awareness via at least two routes – by exposing them to concrete social knowledge concerning the way people behave, and by allowing them to practise inferring people’s intentions and monitoring people’s relationships. Non-fiction readers, by contrast, “fail to simulate such experiences, and may accrue a social deficit in social skills as a result of removing themselves from the actual social world”.
It's always nice to know that something you love is actually good for you, and you don't have to make excuses for indulging in it excessively.

Next time someone accuses you of wasting time reading a novel, you can snap back at them "Actually, I'm sharpening my social skills," and hand them the study to prove it!

Postscript

Suzanne Keyes book Empathy and the Novel, is due out in 2007 and tackles the same area of research. Okay, I'm proving my nerdishness and my ability (long supressed) to disappear down academic rabbit-holes ... but I'm fascinated by this interface between psychology and literature.

(Pic nicked from here.)

17 comments:

sympozium said...

Good news to hear, but why do so many writers have such awful personal lives though?? :-) Reading fiction may be beneficial, but is writing fiction? The few writers I know are so neurotic.

lil ms d said...

not the right box to do so but here goes:

hope everyone had a great deeparaya!

Anonymous said...

Writers, photographers, artists etc. are creatives. Everyone knows creatives are weird :)

Sham said...

Wooo hoooo - am so pleased - can finally justify my addiction!!

bibliobibuli said...

good question, sympozium. but i think the writers who have the most dramatically terrible private lives get all the coverage. i mean who is interested in the happy, well-adjusted writer? and most of the "famous" writers (groupy that i am) i've met seem to be in this category ...

on the other hand i have written in this blog before several times though about the link between creativity/writing and manic depression which is a major cause of unhappiness and self-destructive behaviour. (here and in the links at the bottom of this post if you're interested to follow them)

ms d - many thanks. i hope you are adequately berketupated and rendang stuffed for another year.

sham - you didn't even need an excuse. if i'd said the research shows reading fiction is incredibly bad for you, would you have listened?

anon - i like weird.

bibliobibuli said...

or sympozium ... maybe it's because the process of writing transmits niceness and empathy from the writer (who is thus depleted of it) to the reader who acquires a surplus

sympozium said...

Like your formula of obtaining niceness from authors! :-)
And the new graphic is nice! Photo taken from your own library?

eyeris said...

HAH! I KNEW there was a reason why I don't like reading non-fiction! haha

Nice header, BTW. :D

bibliobibuli said...

sympozium - yes, those are my books!!! i just put the new look up and am so happy with it

Sham said...

No - I don't think I would have listened - hehehehehheheheh..am so addicted Sharon - my husband looks a little worried - there are now books everywhere - just in case I am suddenly sieged with a need to read!!!!

lil ms d said...

finally, a study that provs we're normal!

Lotus Reads said...

Great article, Sharon! I tend to read an equal number of fiction and non-fiction books, hope that just means I'm balanced! :)

bibliobibuli said...

normal, ms d? when did that word ever apply to you?

lotus - thanks. yes, i also need non-fiction in between.

lil ms d said...

oooo meow meow!

no birthday pressie for you! lol

Eliza said...

Hey..this is a nice piece of information you've unearthed. I can have less of a guilt complex now, though it must be said that readers of fiction also tend to long for those clever conversations in books to be duplicated in real life. Cheers. Am forwarding your post to a corporate person I know (and respect highly) who has just confessed he likes to read fiction!

bibliobibuli said...

eliza - glad you can use the info. btw if you need an extremely intelligent conversation we need to meet up for coffee again

Eliza said...

Sharon - coffee and conversation are always good for me. End of working week is better because then the tension should be leaving my shoulders - let's set a date this week and invite Ms D along!