Reading fiction could make us more empathetic people

June 11, 2019

 

Every day, half a million books are sold in the UK. Books can be credited with teaching us many things, but how many of us knew that reading fiction could actually make us more empathetic people?

Research shows that there is in fact a correlation between reading fiction books, and an increase in compassionate behaviour towards others.

It is believed the reason for this is that reading fiction works as a form of training in ‘ social cognition’ (that is, working out what other people are thinking and feeling).

As we become immersed in the story, we compare the characters’ reactions to particular situations with how we might have responded to a similar events or challenges in the past....or how we imaginine we might if it ever occurred in the future. This whole process apparently uses the same psychological processes as in real life relationships, which is probably why the Canadian cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley once called fiction books “the mind’s flight simulator.” They allow us to rehearse situations before they occur and improve our potential response, which as a result is more likely to be altruistic.

As a character trait, empathy is not only good for other people, but also for our own wellbeing , since it nurtures the human connections and relationships on which mental health - in particular- is often dependent.

It goes to show, then, that there may be more wellbeing benefits to the ‘book before bed’ tradition than those stemming from a good night’s sleep! And the best bit? This is one of the few ‘health habits’ for which you needn’t even leave the comfort of your own bed....and what could be more persuasion to take up reading (aka. empathy-training) than that!? 

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