|Anton Chekhov, author of Chameleon|
Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults. We present five experiments showing that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective ToM (experiments 1 to 5) and cognitive ToM (experiments 4 and 5) compared with reading nonfiction (experiments 1), popular fiction (experiments 2 to 5), or nothing at all (experiments 2 and 5). Specifically, these results show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM. More broadly, they suggest that ToM may be influenced by engagement with works of art.Participants reading literary fiction scored better on tests measuring empathy, social and emotional intelligence than those reading pop-fiction, non-fiction or nothing at all. Some showed improvement after reading for just a few minutes!
Literary fiction read in the study included:
- “The Runner,” by Don DeLillo
- “Blind Date,” by Lydia Davis
- “Chameleon,” by Anton Chekhov
- “The Round House,” by Louise Erdrich
- “The Tiger’s Wife,” by Téa Obreht
- “Salvage the Bones,” by Jesmyn Ward
- “Corrie,” by Alice Munro
- “Leak,” by Sam Ruddick
- “Nothing Living Lives Alone,” by Wendell Berry
- “Uncle Rock,” by Dagoberto Gilb
- “The Vandercook,” by Alice Mattinson
If emotional intelligence may be improved in such a short space of time, imagine how much improvement there would be by reading literary fiction every day for a year..?
The New York Times has published a wonderful overview of the study, or you can read the article by Science here.
[Via Open Culture]