It’s a valid question. Are there any benefits to reading fiction?
It turns out that reading fiction does have benefits. A study in the Journal ‘Science’ found that people, after reading fiction, scored better on tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence. These are human interaction skills used when you try to read someone’s body language or guess what is on their mind.
In other words, reading fiction should be part of your preparation for the Friday night poker game.
Another study discovered that reading fiction makes you more empathetic with people. Reading nonfiction makes you less so.
Consider another study. You take one hundred university students. Sophomores are the preferred test subject. The University of Toronto has some many of them to experiment with. You give half of them eight short stories and the other half eight essays. Do you think there will be a difference when they were tested?
Those who read the fiction stories expressed greater comfort with uncertainty and chaos, a key to greater creativity. It would also help with that poker game again.
In 2007, The Chinese government held the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention. Why? They wanted to foster and improve innovation and inventiveness in its society.
The U.S. prison industry has a pretty simple algorithm that can predict the need for incarceration in fifteen years. It’s based what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds can’t read. If there was ever a case for improved reading education in grade school, this is it.
Why does reading fiction change the way people think and perceive each other? I have my theory, and I’ll bore you with it. The Cherokee tribe of Native Americans had a proverb that said “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. When you read a novel, you don’t walk a mile; you walk a thousand miles in the character’s shoes.
Nonfiction books hold facts and arguments. Fiction holds experiences and emotions. By reading fiction, we can pilot a space ship, or travel through the jungle. We can defeat the pirates and save the princess, or solve the crime and capture the killer. We can learn how the coward flees the battle and regrets it until he wins the ‘Red Badge of Courage’.
Small wonder fiction readers are more emphatic and more adventurous.
To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net