Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Reading literary fiction improves 'mind-reading' skills

Date:
October 3, 2013
Source:
The New School
Summary:
Researchers have published a paper demonstrating that reading literary fiction enhances a set of skills and thought processes fundamental to complex social relationships -- and functional societies. These researchers performed five experiments to measure the effect of reading literary fiction on participants' Theory of Mind, the complex social skill of "mind-reading" to understand others' mental states.

The study shows that not just any fiction is effective in fostering ToM, rather the literary quality of the fiction is the determining factor.
Credit: frank peters / Fotolia

Heated debates about the quantifiable value of arts and literature are a common feature of American social discourse. Now, two researchers from The New School for Social Research have published a paper in Science demonstrating that reading literary fiction enhances a set of skills and thought processes fundamental to complex social relationships -- and functional societies.

Ph.D. candidate David Comer Kidd and his advisor, professor of psychology Emanuele Castano performed five experiments to measure the effect of reading literary fiction on participants' Theory of Mind (ToM), the complex social skill of "mind-reading" to understand others' mental states. Their paper, which appears in the Oct. 3 issue of Science is entitled "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind."

To choose texts for their study, Kidd and 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 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. Another one is the Yoni test, which includes both affective trials and cognitive ones. "We used several measures of ToM to make sure the effects were not specific to one type of measure, thus accumulating converging evidence for our hypothesis, " the researchers said.

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 shows that not just any fiction is effective in fostering ToM, rather the literary quality of the fiction is the determining factor. The literary texts used in the experiments had vastly different content and subject matter, but all produced similarly high ToM results.

"Experiment One showed that reading literary fiction, relative to nonfiction improves performance on an affective ToM task. Experiments Two through Five showed that this effect is specific to literary fiction," the paper reports.

Kidd and Castano 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 popular fiction, literary fiction requires intellectual engagement and creative thought from their readers. "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," Kidd and Castano write. "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."

"We see this research as a step towards better understanding the interplay between a specific cultural artifact, literary fiction, and affective and cognitive processes," Kidd and Castano say.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The New School. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. David Comer Kidd And Emanuele Castano. Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind. Science, October 2013

Cite This Page:

The New School. "Reading literary fiction improves 'mind-reading' skills." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131003142621.htm>.
The New School. (2013, October 3). Reading literary fiction improves 'mind-reading' skills. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131003142621.htm
The New School. "Reading literary fiction improves 'mind-reading' skills." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131003142621.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) A study for University College London suggests obese people who are discriminated against gain more weight than those who are not. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins