In a previous essay I argued that reading serious literature – not popular fiction – helps your “evolve” and deepen your self-awareness and emotional capacities; and I cited some research that provided evidence of just that. Now, a new study underscores and adds to those findings and observations.
In my earlier article I wrote, “Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life? And, related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on.”
Related to that, I cited research reported in the New York Times: That reading serious fiction has a demonstrable impact on increasing empathy, social awareness and emotional sensitivity. The study found not only that reading serious fiction increased reader’s emotional awareness and empathy, but that pop fiction did not have the same effect. In my view, those findings illustrate an essential part of becoming more fully human.
And now, a new study has found that reading literary fiction appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. This study found that participants who recognized and were familiar with authors of literary fiction tended to perform better on an emotional recognition test. This association held even after statistically accounting for the influence of other factors that might be connected to both emotion skills and reading more literary fiction, such as past educational attainment, gender and age.
The authors then conducted a second study involving over 300 more participants. It also included a measure of participants’ self-reported empathy levels. This was to check that it’s not simply that people with more empathy are more attracted to literary fiction and also tend to do better at the emotion recognition test. Again, participants who recognized more literary fiction authors also tended to perform better on the emotion test. Moreover, this association remained even after controlling for the influence of differences in participants’ empathy levels.
The authors say they believe the apparent link between reading more literary fiction and better emotion recognition skills emerges because “the implied (rather than explicit) socio-cognitive complexity, or roundness of characters, in literary fiction prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters’ mental states.”
So – find a good novel or short story by a writer of serious fiction, and read on!