As some lament the death of literature, and others argue that recent versions of it are terrible, a new study in the journal Science suggests that reading literature, in nothing else, makes us better people. A New York Times blog piece provided a summary of the study.
It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.
The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.
The same benefit doesn’t, however, hold true with other types of reading. Again, from the New York Times from the times piece.
Dr. Humphrey, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University’s Darwin College, said he would have expected that reading generally would make people more empathetic and understanding. “But to separate off literary fiction, and to demonstrate that it has different effects from the other forms of reading, is remarkable,” he said.