m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

The Science of Fiction

I found this old link while catching up on the aggregator: New Scientist reports on the psychological benefits of reading fiction. You need a subscription to read the whole thing, but here’s a quote I found by googling:

We found that fiction readers had substantially greater empathy as measured by the mind-in-the-eyes test, and also performed somewhat better on the interpersonal perception test than people who read predominantly non-fiction.

Could this result simply reflect the reading preferences of different personality types - might more empathic people be drawn to fiction, for example? To assess this possibility, Mar randomly assigned another group of subjects to read a fictional short story or a non-fiction essay of the same length. Then he gave them all a social reasoning test in which they had to answer multiple-choice questions about the emotions, beliefs and intentions of characters in various scenarios, as well as a similar test to assess analytical reasoning. He found that those who read the story performed better on the social reasoning test than those who read the non-fiction piece, but there was no difference between the two groups in analytical reasoning. As well as confirming the benefits of reading fiction, this also suggests that the effect is immediate.

I wonder how genre would affect the results. Would zombies make the reader less sympathetic? Does fantasy lead to culturally-inappropriate questing?

Digging further in the aggregator, I also found a Scientific American article on research into storytelling.