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.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.