I Feel Ya

How Reading Literature Makes You a Better Person

Your high school English teacher was right. A study by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano of the New School for Social Research claims that reading literary fiction augments our ability to detect and understand emotions. Kidd and Castano randomly assigned 1,000 participants some texts to read, either portions of popular fiction such as Danielle Steel or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, or more literary texts, such as Téa Obreht’s The Tiger's Wife, Don DeLillo, or Anton Chekhov. They then used a series of tests to measure empathy—in other words, how accurately they could identify emotions in others. Scores were consistently higher for those who read literary fiction. The scientists were careful not to entirely dismiss the more popular authors, saying, “There are likely benefits of reading popular fiction—certainly entertainment. We just did not measure them.”