Science Endorses Literary Fiction

Don Delillo

Don Delillo

Score one for the Jonathans! Turns out, reading literary fiction isn’t just good for dinner party conversation, it also makes you more empathetic, The New York Times reports.

 A new study published in Science finds that reading literary fiction is better than not reading anything, reading popular fiction or even  reading serious nonfiction for “understanding others’ mental states,” which the study calls  “a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies.”

Social psychologists at The New School  in the relatively new field called “theory of the mind” conducted a series of five experiments to come up with these results.  

They asked people to infer from pictures what people are thinking or feeling after reading  excerpts from literary writers like Don DeLillo, Alice Munro, Wendell Berry and popular fiction such as Gillian Flynn, Rosamunde Pilcher, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Other experiements asked people to take similar tests after reading non-fiction and after not reading anything.

The literary fiction readers scored the best.

But the study found that, despite the improvement in empathetic skills, people didn’t necessarily like reading literary fiction all that much.

“Interestingly, when subjects were asked, they said they did not enjoy literary fiction as much as popular fiction,” the Times wrote.

Interestingly, indeed!

We await Jonathan Franzen’s essay on the subject. And the inevitable response from Jennifer Weiner.