Can Reading Literary Fiction Increase Empathy?
October 11, 2013
A recent study conducted by New School For Research psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano shows that reading literary work stimulates empathy by engaging the ability to perceive and comprehend the emotions of others. One thousand participants were randomly given texts to read in five separate studies. The samples varied from popular fiction, such as Danielle Steel, to texts considered more “literary” like Don DeLillo or Chekhov. Theory of Mind techniques measured the precision with which participants identified emotions in others. The findings showed a marked increase in scores when readers were working with literary texts rather than mass-market fiction or non-fiction.
Why the distinction between literary and non-literary texts? Kidd says that, “In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others." A fairly broad statement, it leads to the question of defining a literary work. Could these results, and the way in which they were obtained, present a reliable way to distinguish whether a work is literary fiction or not? According to Kidd, “These are aesthetic and stylistic concerns which as psychologists we can't and don't want to make judgments about. Neither do we argue that people should only read literary fiction; it's just that only literary fiction seems to improve Theory of Mind in the short-term. There are likely benefits of reading popular fiction – certainly entertainment. We just did not measure them.”
Source: The Guardian