Reading literary fiction enhances your complex social skill of “mind-reading” to understand others’ mental states, a new study has suggested.
To choose texts for their study, Ph.D. candidate David Comer Kidd and his advisor, professor of psychology Emanuele Castano relied on expert evaluations to define three types of writing: literary fiction, popular fiction, and nonfiction.
Literary fiction works were represented by excerpts from recent National Book Award finalists or winners of the 2012 PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction; popular fiction works were drawn from Amazon.com bestsellers or an anthology of recent popular fiction; and non-fiction works were selected from Smithsonian Magazine.
After participants read texts from one of the three genres, Kidd and Castano tested their ToM capabilities using several well-established measures.
One of these measures is the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test, which asks participants to look at black-and-white photographs of actors’ eyes and indicate the emotion expressed by that actor (see Figure 1 below).
Another one is the Yoni test, which includes both affective trials and cognitive ones.
Across the five experiments, Kidd and Castano found that participants who were assigned to read literary fiction performed significantly better on the ToM tests than did participants assigned to the other experimental groups, who did not differ from one another.
The study has been published in Science.