Reading Highbrow Books Makes You A Better Person

Good news for book worms…

Rory Gilmore Reading

by Emma Firth |
Published on

Now is the time to channel your inner Rory Gilmore. According to a new study, your reading habits could actually have a massive impact on your emotional intelligence.

In the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts researchers David Kidd and Emanuele Castano found that there was a stark difference between people who favoured ‘literary fiction’ (such as Salman Rushdie and Harper Lee) over ‘genre fiction’ (i.e. your Danielle Steel et al).

Over 1,000 participants were put through an ‘author recognition test’, asking respondents to list writers they recognised with a mixture of literary and genre fiction authors. Next, participates then took part in a ‘reading the mind in the eyes’ test – which involved looking at a photograph of a person and selecting the emotion (out of four options) which most closely matched the individuals’ expression in the picture. Those that recognised more literary fiction authors in the list were better at inferring others’ feelings, the study found.

‘Results indicate that exposure to literary but not genre fiction positively predicts performance on a test of theory of mind, even when accounting for demographic variables including age, gender, educational attainment, undergraduate major … and self-reported empathy,’ David and Emanuele write in their paper. ‘We propose that these findings emerge because the implied (rather than explicit) socio-cognitive complexity, or roundness of characters, in literary fiction prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters’ mental states.’

via giphy

Wait, so is our bingeing on Bridget Jones's Diary killing our brain cells?! Thankfully, no.

‘[It] is not to say that reading popular genre fiction cannot be enjoyable or beneficial for other reasons,’ Kidd reveals. ‘Nor does the present evidence point towards a clear and consistent distinction between literary and popular genre fiction. Instead, it suggests that the broad distinction between relatively complex literary and relatively formulaic genre fiction can help us better understand how engaging with fiction affects how we think.’

So while we may not be unpacking our rom-com reads this summer holiday, we might just be adding Go Set a Watchman to our list too. Can't hurt.

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