Want To Improve Your Social Skills? Read More Literary Fiction
A study claims that, compared to nonfiction and popular fiction, literary fiction engages the reader in a type of social interaction with the characters, requiring them to work harder to infer their motives and feelings.
Researchers at New York’s New School for Social Research conducted five experiments in which participants were asked to read excerpts from different books and articles and then take a series of tests that gauged how well they were able to understand the emotional states of others. They found that participants who read literary fiction performed much better on the tests than those who read nonfiction or popular fiction. To help define each kind of writing, the researchers turned to prestigious literature award lists, Smithsonian Magazine, and Amazon’s bestsellers list, respectively.
What’s the Big Idea?
Unlike genre fiction, which tends to have fairly predictable and consistent characters and plots, literary fiction draws readers into a kind of social interaction with characters. Lead researcher David Comer Kidd says that writers of literary fiction “help us to make inferences without pushing us to make specific inferences, but they pull us into a situation where we really have to use our capacity to understand other people to its fullest extent.” A paper describing the research was published online this week in Science.