Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy

All books are not created equal; specifically, popular fiction is not equal to literary fiction, at least when it comes to creative positive outcomes on a person’s empathy.

A new study published in Science has found that people who read literary fiction gain an immediate benefit to their powers of empathy. Moreover, those who read popular fiction did not gain the same benefit.

Across several experiments, researchers had volunteers read selections of literature ranging from Dom DeLillo to Alice Munro. The volunteers then examined pictures of people’s faces and attempted to say what emotion they were feeling. Those who had read a couple of pages of literary fiction were far more successful than those reading, say, Stephen King. The benefit held, even after researchers controlled for age, gender, education, and other factors.

Photo courtesy of chiappaintta.

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