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Reading Fiction Connects Us to Others

by Katie Christian 

Tags: Great Writing, Reported Writing, fiction, empathy, social connection, Greater Good,

GreaterGoodWinter09An activity as solitary as reading a work of fiction may actually help us become better at connecting with others, writes psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley in Greater Good.

Oatley says fiction is about “possible selves in possible worlds,” and can aid interpersonal skills in two ways: by helping readers develop “theory of mind”—imagining what others are thinking and feeling—as well as showing how people interact with one another.

Readers of fiction were found to have higher social ability than those who preferred non-fiction. The reason?

“Fiction is principally about the difficulties of selves navigating the social world. Non-fiction is about, well, whatever it is about: selfish genes, or how to make Mediterranean food, or whether climate changes will harm our planet. So with fiction we tend to become more expert at empathizing and socializing. By contrast, readers of non-fiction are likely to become more expert at genetics, or cookery, or environmental studies, or whatever they spend their time reading and thinking about.”

Source: Greater Good Magazine