Certain jobs demand a high level of emotional intelligence and the ability to understand what others are feeling. For instance, if you are involved in sales, comprehending how others react to your pitch can spell the difference between success and failure. And a study shows that reading the right kind of book can sharpen your ability to read what other people are thinking.
Studies at the New School for Social Research in New York City shows that reading literary fiction can improve your “Theory of Mind (ToM),” your perception of what’s going on in other people’s heads.
The scientists found that reading books that have been National Book Award finalists and winners of the 2012 PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction can boost your ability to decipher the mental states of those around you. On the other hand, in this research, when folks read light fiction from the best-seller list and nonfiction fare, their ToM didn’t improve.
“(Our first experiment) showed that reading literary fiction, relative to nonfiction improves performance on an affective ToM task. (Our other tests) showed that this effect is specific to literary fiction,” the researchers report.
The scientists suggest that the reason for literary fiction’s impact on ToM is a direct result of the ways in which it involves the reader. Unlike lighter, popular fiction, literary fiction requires intellectual engagement and creative thought from the reader.
“Features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances. Through the use of… stylistic devices, literary fiction defamiliarizes its readers,” the text of the report says. “Just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.”