Fiction: The connection between reading and empathy

brain on booksScientists are finding connections between what we read and how we interact with other people.  Here are some of their findings:

  • People who read fiction, and put themselves in the character’s shoes, are more empathetic than people who do not read fiction. This is because text can not only paint vivid pictures, it can also allow you to experience strong emotions. Experience it at some level and you are more likely to be able to identify it.
  • Researchers found that students who read the Harry Potter books showed more sympathy toward people who are stigmatized in our society, such as the LGBT community or immigrants.  Not surprisingly, there was a catch. The kink?  This empathy only existed in children who identified with Harry who was an outcast but also befriended other marginalized people.
  • Readers of literary fiction were more empathic than either readers of pop fiction or nonfiction.  Researchers believe that this may be because the characters in literary fiction are often complex and harder to get to know, ie. they are more like real people than cardboard cut outs of people. (To find out more about these studies, read the entire article here.)

While this isn’t entirely good news for those of us who are nonfiction writers, it is interesting to note that scientists are proving what writrs have argued all along.  Give a child a good book, and you can shape his mind.