It seems that a good way to learn to read other people’s minds is to… take in literature.
According to a new American scientific research, reading good literature books helps people develop valuable cognitive and emotional empathy. These qualities facilitate the development of interpersonal relationships and thus help communities work better.
Researchers of the New School for Social Research in New York, led by a Social Psychology Professor Emanuele Castano, conducted five experiments that assessed the impact of the literature on the ability of readers to recognize the perspective of others and understand what they think and feel.
For the purposes of the research, the participants were given books of quality classical and more contemporary literature (Anton Chekhov, Charles Dickens, and Don DeLillo), modern “bestsellers” of lower quality (“Fifty shades of gray”), and non-literary works.
According to the researchers, reading literary masterpieces improved readers’ empathy, i.e. the ability that in a way, allows us to read other people’s minds or be sensitive to the feelings and motives of those around us, as opposed to those who read the other kinds of books.
Thus, the quality literature, regardless of its specific content, seems to “open” the mind of the reader. It makes us more empathetic and understanding, which could, in turn, improve the quality of our romantic and friendly relationships.
It’s a very interesting finding because, on the one hand, we always knew that classic literature makes us better people. On the other hand, though, a typical book worm is usually not associated with highly developed social skills.
This study is certainly great news for all introverts, shy romantics, and nerds who are passionate about reading but thought they lacked social skills. Guess what? After all, your favorite quiet activity can help you become more empathetic and learn to get on with other people!
In concluding, the report points out that “Fifty shades of gray” may be an entertaining read (well, it’s a subjective statement – I guess it all depends on your book preferences), but it does not help you delve into the hearts and minds of other people in the way that Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” does.
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