Categorized | Opinions

A little literary fiction never hurts

By Kayla Bowermaster

  It is important to be empathetic, to be able to read body language and really understand other’s emotions. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to express and control one’s emotions and be aware of other’s as well. Many people value these skills and try to improve them. Many other people aren’t sure how to do it. For book-lovers, it might be pretty easy.

  Some recent studies have shown that reading literary fiction, like Anton Chekhov or even Neil Gaiman, can improve a person’s emotional intelligence. In a study done by the New School for Social Research, participants were told to read certain selections of literary fiction and some were given selections of popular fiction. All participants were tested on their emotional intelligence, and the ones who read the literary fiction had higher scores than the ones who read the popular fiction.

  A great place to start when getting into this might be to look at the differences between literary fiction and popular fiction, and just what defines a book or story as literary fiction. For some people, popular, or genre, fiction is usually defined by it’s categories and focus on entertainment, and literary fiction focuses more on meaning. Literary fiction and popular fiction aren’t exclusive though, and sometimes a genre work can also be a literary work. A lot of people, though, may have different definitions or feel that this one does not do justice.

  The psychological studies done show that after reading short stories of literary fiction some people scored better on the tests given, one of the tests having participants look at a photograph of a person’s eyes and identifying what emotion the person is feeling. With some literary fiction books, there is a great amount of focus on the main characters and their thoughts and feelings. That is, to some people, what helps social skills in people who read literary fiction.

  The studies done show only a few minutes of reading certain materials can have an effect on the empathy of one person, which has received some criticism. One question is how much reading of literary fiction can be an improvement, and also would these improvements be permanent? Would someone have to constantly read literary fiction to keep these emotional intelligence improvement, and could someone read other genres and types of books along with literary fiction novels?

  Another criticism is how the studies were done. The psychologists who performed the study chose the pieces that were literary fiction, nonfiction(which were science articles, specifically ones about non-human subjects), and popular fiction, and what one person may say is genre fiction, another might say is very literary. Some criticisms is also the question at hand and just how can you really experiment it perfectly right.

  There might not be an exact answer to that, but the studies that have been done have shown some impressive results. Whether you really believe in those results or not, more tests on this could possibly happen in the future, and more information of this might come out as well. It is helpful to know that there might be another great way to improve important social skills, and it is definitely a study that can get someone thinking as well.


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