Thought I would end the year with a little fun. Recent studies suggest that people who read fiction might be better at understanding others. In fact, regular readers of fiction may be better at social interaction than non-fiction readers (or heavens-forbid non-readers).

In one study, psychologists assessed the reading habits of 94 adults. They then tested the volunteers on two types of social skills–emotion perception and social cognition. For emotion perception, the volunteers were given a test whereby they were required to discern a person’s emotional state from photographs of just the eyes. You can find that test here. Please try it–I’d like to know whether you are a fiction reader and how you scored. I am a sometimes fiction reader, but definitely I consume way more non-fiction than any other genre. I scored 26, which is average.

In the second test, participants answered questions about video clips of individuals interacting. The researchers found that the more fiction people read, the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes and, to a lesser extent, correctly interpreting social cues. These results drew the first strong connection between reading fiction and social skills.

Since this study was published in 2006, more research has been done in the area showing that regular fiction readers perform better in understanding social cues and interactions. Kooky huh? But it makes sense. Essentially, scientists believe, fiction allows the reader to immerse him or herself into a story. It is in the unfolding of story, that the reader gets to understand human emotions, and thus can extrapolate this understanding to the world around them.

There was a time when scientists thought the opposite–that reading fiction could do little to help people understand others, because it was made up. Uh uh…good fiction is understanding human emotions, because without them a good story is rarely told. We are emotional beings, and so we resonate with the human condition.

Yes, these results make sense to me, although I would have never thought about it one way or another before I heard of the above test and findings. G’head…take the test. See how you do and report back. I’d like to know. Happy New Year.

10 Responses to Social Know-How In Eyes of Fiction

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m female and a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction, although in the last few months it’s been more fiction. I missed four and scored a 32.

  2. The Lady says:

    I thought I’d do badly as I’ve always been fairly shy and find it hard to look people in the eyes at first so I tend to rely on body language and verbal clues a lot. However I still scored 25. I read a fair amount of fiction, usually concentrated during vacations.

  3. Sam Ryan says:

    I read a mix of fiction and non-fiction, more non-fiction though. Always believed myself to be able to read people reasonably well. I scored 26.

  4. Abdul Aziz says:

    I read on average a book a month, probably about 70% fiction at the moment. I see immense value in good fiction although in this case Im not convinced the correlation is a causation. I scored 27

  5. Anonymous says:

    I thought I’d score poorly because I tend to look at people’s mouths while they speak; however, I do consider myself a very observant person, and have been told so by many others. I scored a 23. I do not read any fiction, and never have (with the exception of the material I was forced to read in high school English class). I read only scientific journals, medical textbooks, etc. I am a female orthopedic physician assistant. What I found interesting is that out of the 13 I missed, 10 of them were women’s eyes and only 3 of them were men’s.

  6. Samantha says:

    22, I need to start reading those fiction books family and friends have given me! I also scored higher on men than women.

  7. Samantha says:

    Oh, and I read lots of non-fiction!

  8. Dr. Nick Campos Dr. Nick Campos says:

    Just retook the test–21 months later, scored 32…very interesting considering the changes I’ve gone through personally in that time.

  9. Doug says:

    I read constantly. I’ve read quite a lot of fiction, though I’ve been reading more non-fiction lately. I scored 28.

  10. Augusta says:

    I am a female and I read a very wide variety of material. I scored 21, below average. I found as I took the test I really over analyzed every picture. I thought the majority of the eyes were attractive eyes and therefore questioned my initial thoughts on each if them. I wondered if bias made me see them sometimes as flirtatious, friendly or any sort of positive emotion, so I purposely tried to find which possible negative emotion they could be as well. I ended up getting a number of them wrong by doing this. It’s interesting to wonder though how attractiveness affects our ability to read another person.

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