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Be a Nicer Human: read literary fiction

ScientistThe Team here at the office are rather unsurprisingly of the collective opinion that reading is good for you.

Reading of any kind actually, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, magazines and more.

It seems the scientific world concur this line of thought and last week, our Editor, Simon was meandering through a New Scientist (12 Oct issue) and he came across an article confirming precisely that, specifically in respect of fiction.

It referred to literary fiction as being a source of good feeling. Apparently, digesting a good book temporarily enhances ones ability to empathise with others emotions and to infer their beliefs and intentions, which is known as Theory of Mind. It seems stories that have complex characters boosts this mental boost.

In their experiments, readers of literary fiction were asked to identify facial emotions (a standard empathy test) and they showed a heightened ability to do so, thereby identifying the fact that they understood them with greater clarity and would ultimately be nicer people as a result…albeit temporarily.

Deep eh!

If you wish to dig deeper into the story, here’s a supremely geeky summary of their findings:

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.
Source: Science Magazine

The Team
(who were all wearing white coats and playing with Bunsen burners as I penned this piece)