Big date coming up? Try reading a good book before you go

A recent study done by New York's New School for Social Research found that, after reading literary fiction, participants displayed more social perception and empathy.

'Salvage the Bones' by Jesmyn Ward was one of the titles used by researchers to determine whether participants had better social skills after reading it.

Reading is, by nature, a solitary activity, but does perusing serious fiction make you better at interacting with other people?

A new study published in the journal “Science” and conducted by researchers at New York’s New School for Social Research found that those who read what the researchers defined as “literary fiction” did better on exams that tested skills such as emotional intelligence and empathy. Those who read literary fiction such as titles by Anton Chekhov or Jesmyn Ward did better on these tests than those who picked up a book that fit into the popular fiction category or nonfiction.

The researchers, Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd, believe this is because “features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances.”

“Through the use of … stylistic devices, literary fiction defamiliarizes its readers,” they wrote. “Just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.”

For the literary fiction category, novels including the National Book Award finalists from recent years and those which received the PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction were used on test subjects. Popular fiction selections came from a collection of recently released popular titles or books that are currently Amazon bestsellers, while Smithsonian Magazine was the source of nonfiction reading selections.  

Test subjects ranging from 18 to 75 years old were used.

Louise Erdrich’s award-winning book “The Round House” was one that was used as a literary fiction sample, and she told The New York Times she was very happy to hear of the study’s results.

“This is why I love science,” Erdrich said. “[The researchers] found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction…. Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries.”

Ward said in an interview with NPR that she was also very excited by the findings. 

“If that's true, then that's exactly what I want to happen when I write,” she said. “Part of the reason that I write about what I write about is that the people I grew up with, poor people and black people, are underrepresented in fiction. So it's amazing to me that a study like this shows that people are seeing these characters and can empathize with them and sympathize with them. It makes me feel like what I'm trying to do is working.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.