Human beings have the amazing ability to read another’s emotions and feelings through gazing into the eyes or observing nonverbal cues. This ability referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM) is what allows us to understand the actions and motives of those around us. Some people, of course, are better at detecting the emotions of others and attributing it to their behavior. The good news is, a new study released by the New School of Social Research suggest that humans can improve their ability to sense the emotions and motives of others by reading literary fiction, says their October 3, news release.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, described Theory of Mind as “the ability to attribute mental states to the self and to others to predict behavior” in a 2001 report in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry.
The study conducted by Ph.D. candidate David Comer Kidd and advisor Emanuele Castano , professor of psychology at the New School of Social Research, randomly assigned reading of literary fiction, popular fiction, and nonfiction to groups of participants. While literary fiction was defined as fiction from recent National Book Award finalists or winners of the 2012 PEN/O, popular fiction was randomly selected from the Amazon bookstore.
After reading, the participants were assessed via several tests, which included the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” and “Yoni” test. Those who read literary fiction scored significantly higher in ToM than those who read either popular fiction or nonfiction.
Those who read popular fiction did fair better than those who read nonfiction, but it seems that to improve your mind-reading skills all fiction is not created equal. While popular romance and thrillers may be riveting, they do little to improve your Theory of Mind.