A group of researchers in Toronto have just released results of a study showing that "bookworms have exceptionally strong people skills." This comes as news to those of us bookworms who pretty much can't stand people. I kid.
Their years of research - summed up in the current issue of New Scientist magazine - has shown readers of narrative fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than those who read non-fiction texts. And follow-up research showed that reading fiction may help fine-tune these skills: People assigned to read a New Yorker short story did better on social reasoning tests than those who read an essay from the same magazine.
Those benefits, researchers say, may be because fiction acts as a type of simulator. Reading about make-believe people having make-believe adventures or whirlwind romances may actually help people navigate those trials in real life.
"Fiction is really about how to get around in the social world, which is not as easy as one might think," said Keith Oatley, one of the researchers and a professor in the department of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto. "People who read fiction give themselves quite a bit of practice in understanding that. And also, I think reading fiction sort of prompts one to think about these questions - you know, what are these people up to?"
I must be reading the wrong fiction.