Reading Fiction Makes People Nicer: Scientific Research

Reading fiction books changes our brain in a positive way–in a way that reading nonfiction books or reading nothing at all does not do.  More specifically, it appears reading fiction books makes people nicer social beings.  This, according to scientific studies on social cognition and reading.  Read on…


“…according to an analysis of studies examining the effects of reading fiction on social behavior, we’re probably a little nicer for it…

Whether (and how) reading fiction changes one’s brain is a weirdly controversial subject, so the meta-analysis’s authors — led by David Dodell-Feder, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester — sought to evaluate previous research in this area. The news should provide some comfort for the floundering fiction publishing industry: upon analyzing 14 previous studies on this subject, Dodell-Feder concluded that, compared to reading nonfiction, or not reading at all, reading fiction produced a “small, statistically significant improvement in social-cognitive performance,” a finding they call “robust.”

A number of the previous experiments examined were designed differently — some asked subjects to self-report on their empathy after reading a passage of fiction, while others attempted to measure it with an empathy-related task. Differences like these, and others, might account for differences in earlier studies’ conclusions. Still, Dodell-Feder and his co-authors argue that, in sum, the evidence for fiction’s effect on social cognition is there.

The authors also note that the reason the improvement measured is so small may be due to the short-term nature of the experiments; even the best book probably can’t change your cognition much in an hour. But if you continue to read fiction, the authors argue, these effects will very likely compound over time.


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