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Study Finds Reading Literary Fiction Enhances Mind-Reading Skills

Study Finds Reading Literary Fiction Enhances Mind-Reading Skills

Have you ever felt like reading fiction makes you smarter and better able to connect or relate with fellow human beings?

Turns out, you’re right. And now there is measurable, quantifiable proof for that too.

Emanuele Castano (a psychology professor) and David Comer Kidd (previous doctoral candidate) at the New School for Social Research in New York, published a pleasantly surprising study. The study showed that reading a piece of literary fiction enhances people’s ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, which is an important skill for navigating complex social relationships.

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Apparently, literary works by writers such as Alice Munro, Charles Dickens and Anton Chekhov sharpen our ability to understand other people’s emotions more than thrillers or romance novels.

The study

In a series of five experiments, 1,000 participants were randomly given different texts to read. The texts ranged from excerpts of popular fiction like Danielle Steel’s bestseller The Sins of the Mother and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl to award-winning literary fiction like the works of Anton Chekhov.

Researchers then analyzed the impact of reading literary fiction on the participants’ Theory of Mind (ToM). The Theory of Mind is essentially another term for the complicated social skill of reading people’s minds to try and understand what someone’s mental state is. In one test, dubbed “Reading the Mind in the Eyes,” participants studied 36 photographs of pairs of eyes and were required to pick (from four choices) adjectives that best described the emotions each pair of eyes showed.

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The questions ranged from “Is the woman whose gaze has slivered to a squint suspicious or indecisive?” and “Is the man with the smoky eyes aghast or doubtful?” to “Is she interested or irritated, flirtatious or hostile?”. Scores were recorded and found to be consistently higher for those participants who had read literary fiction than for those who had read non-fiction texts or popular fiction.

The study concluded that when you read literary fiction as opposed to non-fiction texts and popular fiction, you’ll perform better on tests measuring empathy, emotional intelligence and social perception.

How it works

Castano and Kidd suggest that the reason literary fiction improves ToM more than popular or serious non-fiction is because of the way these texts involve the reader.

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As Kidd explains:

“Some writing is what you call ‘writerly’, you fill in the gaps and participate, and some is ‘readerly’, and you’re entertained. We tend to see ‘readerly’ more in genre fiction like adventure, romance and thrillers, where the author dictates your experience as a reader. Literary [writerly] fiction lets you go into a new environment and you have to find your own way.”

In literary fiction, the incompleteness and complexity of characters forces readers to think as they try to understand and make out the characters. Readers have to be more sensitive to subtle emotional and behavioral nuances of the characters. In other words, literary fiction leaves more to the imagination and requires intellectual engagement and creative thought from its readers.

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In popular fiction, on the other hand, “really the author is in control, and the reader has a more passive role,” said Kidd. “Features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances. Through the use of […] stylistic devices, literary fiction de-familiarizes its readers. 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.”

Take away

The literary fiction books used in these experiments had varying subject matter and content, but all produced similarly high ToM results.

“We see this research as a step towards better understanding the interplay between a specific cultural artifact, literary fiction, and affective and cognitive processes,” wrote the study’s authors.

So, next time you are getting ready for a job interview or blind date, besides taking a shower and shave, try reading a book. But not just any book. Chekhov, Jane Austen or Téa Obreht will help you maneuver around new social territory much better than Fifty Shades of Grey.

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

10 Small Changes To Make Your House Feel Like A Home

10 Small Changes To Make Your House Feel Like A Home

Your house is more than just a building that you live in. It should be a home that makes you feel welcome as soon as you open the front door.

Making your house feel like a home is not something that simply happens on its own. You need to make some changes to a house when you move in, to give it that cozy, warm feeling that turns it into a true home. To help you speed the process, follow this guide to 10 small changes to make your house feel like a home.

1. Make the Windows Your Own

When you move into a home, they often come with boring Venetian blinds or less than attractive curtains.

One of the best ways you can instantly warm your home and make it showcase your style is to add some new window dressing. Adding beautiful curtains not only improves your home’s appearance, but it can also help to control the temperature.

2. Put up Some Art

If you have a lot of bare walls in your home, it will seem sterile no matter how beautiful your paint or wallpaper is.

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Hanging art on the walls will instantly give it personality and make it feel like home.

3. Improve the Aroma

A house that is not filled with inviting smells will never feel like a home. There are loads of ways you can make your home smell nice. There are tons of air fresheners on the market you can use.

Incense and scented candles are a nice option as well. Don’t forget that baking in a home is also a great way to fill it with an aroma that instantly smells like home as soon as you open the front door.

4. Put out Lots of Pillows and Throws

A great way to make your home look warm and inviting is to place lots of pillows and throws out on the furniture. It is much better to have too many pillows than not enough.

There is nothing like the feeling of sinking into a cushiony pillow that feels like a cloud to make you feel like you are at home.

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5. Instantly Class up Your Closet

If your closet is filled with wire or plastic hangers, it will never truly feel homey. To instantly make your closet feel classy, change out your old hangers for wooden ones.

Not only do they look great, but they are better for hanging your clothes as well.

6. Improve Your Air Quality

One of the most overlooked ways to make your house feel more like a home is to improve its air quality.

The easiest and best way to upgrade the air quality in your home is to change the old, dirty filters in your furnace regularly. Get some air filters delivered to your home so that you always have some on hand.

7. Fill it with Plants

Another way to improve the air quality in your home is to fill it with plants. You should have plants in every room of your home.

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They help to improve the air quality and they look beautiful. As well as making your home appear homier, plants also help to boost your mood and lower your stress levels.

8. Change the Doorknobs

Most people don’t really give their doorknobs a second thought unless they are broken. That is a shame because changing your doorknobs is an easy way to add personality to your home.

Changing your old, boring doorknobs to new ones that are works of art will instantly brighten your home.

9. Upgrade Your Tub or Shower

There is nothing like luxuriating in a whirlpool bath or steam shower to make the cares of the day melt away. Your family deserves a bit of luxury when they are in their bathroom.

Install a new shower or tub today to make your bathroom worthy of a place in your home.

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10. Fresh Cut Flowers

You can make any room in your house feel homier by placing a vase full of beautiful flowers in it. The gorgeous look and intoxicating aroma of fresh cut flowers will immediately brighten your day when you encounter them.

You don’t have to make all these changes at once. Try one or two a day though, and your house will feel like a home before you know it. The trick is to constantly keep adding these homey touches to make your home a place worthy of its name.

Featured photo credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-wooden-round-analog-wall-clock-on-brown-wooden-wall-121537/ via unsplash.com

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