Novels by Anne Hart
Should seniors read literary fiction rather than pop fiction for the sake of their health and to boost understanding of other people's minds? And isn't it subjective when labeling a novel literary fiction or popular fiction? Or is it based on when the novel or story was written and how many years it remained a valued work of fiction on the shelves? I always wanted to know what type of fiction do most women over the age of 75 prefer and why they enjoy that type of fiction, literary or popular? Or do they prefer nonfiction? And if so, what type of nonfiction, regardless of whether they're retired, volunteering, or following any given hobby or interest?
Reading fiction is good for your health, says a new study
Researchers from The New School for Social Research have published a paper in the Oct. 3, 2013 issue of Science, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," demonstrating that reading literary fiction enhances a set of skills and thought processes fundamental to complex social relationships--and functional societies. What about fiction you write yourself compared to fiction written by winners of fiction writing contests?
Some people can only write fiction if the events are based on their own life stories. You may wish to check out the article, "BPS Research Digest: Reading literary (but not pop) fiction, boosts our understanding of other people's minds."
The study emphasized literary fiction, but did that include popular fiction or the type of fiction that remains a classic for centuries that some people read for universal values or the supermarket fiction, or specialty fiction for niche audiences? What type of literary fiction is best for your health? Also see, "Now We Have Proof Reading Literary Fiction Makes You a Better Person."
A few years ago, Ph.D. candidate David Comer Kidd and his advisor, professor of psychology Emanuele Castano performed five experiments to measure the effect of reading literary fiction on participants' Theory of Mind, the complex social skill of "mind-reading" to understand others' mental states.
Reading literary fiction improves 'mind-reading' skills, says the New School for Social Research study published in a paper in the magazine, Science. Heated debates about the quantifiable value of arts and literature are a common feature of American social discourse. Now, two researchers from The New School for Social Research have published a paper in Science, demonstrating that reading literary fiction enhances a set of skills and thought processes fundamental to complex social relationships—and functional societies.
Ph.D. candidate David Comer Kidd and his advisor, professor of psychology Emanuele Castano performed five experiments to measure the effect of reading literary fiction on participants' Theory of Mind (ToM), the complex social skill of "mind-reading" to understand others' mental states. Their paper, which appears in the Oct. 3, 2013 issue of Science, is "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind."
To choose texts for their study, Kidd and Castano relied on expert evaluations to define three types of writing: literary fiction, popular fiction, and nonfiction
Literary fiction works were represented by excerpts from recent National Book Award finalists or winners of the 2012 PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction; popular fiction works were drawn from Amazon.com bestsellers or an anthology of recent popular fiction; and non-fiction works were selected from Smithsonian Magazine.
After participants read texts from one of the three genres, Kidd and Castano tested their ToM capabilities using several well-established measures. One of these measures is the "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" test, which asks participants to look at black-and-white photographs of actors' eyes and indicate the emotion expressed by that actor (see Figure 1 below). Another one is the Yoni test, which includes both affective trials and cognitive ones (see Figure 2 below). "We used several measures of ToM to make sure the effects were not specific to one type of measure, thus accumulating converging evidence for our hypothesis, " the researchers said.
Across the five experiments, Kidd and Castano found that participants who were assigned to read literary fiction performed significantly better on the ToM tests than did participants assigned to the other experimental groups, who did not differ from one another.
The study shows that not just any fiction is effective in fostering ToM, rather the literary quality of the fiction is the determining factor. The literary texts used in the experiments had vastly different content and subject matter, but all produced similarly high ToM results.
"Experiment One showed that reading literary fiction, relative to nonfiction improves performance on an affective ToM task. Experiments Two through Five showed that this effect is specific to literary fiction," the paper reports. There are all types of fiction. See, "Writer Finds Audience Through Erotic Pro-Wrestling Fan Fiction." But how can literary fiction rather than popular fiction be therapeutic in different ways, that is in the sense that it can improve your mind-reading skills. By mind reading, scientists mean that literary fiction may help you get a handle on how people think, speak, and behave through complex social relationships.
Kidd and Castano suggest that the reason for literary fiction's impact on ToM is a direct result of the ways in which it involves the reader. Unlike popular fiction, literary fiction requires intellectual engagement and creative thought from their readers. "Features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances. Through the use of […] stylistic devices, literary fiction defamiliarizes its readers," Kidd and Castano write. "Just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration."
"We see this research as a step towards better understanding the interplay between a specific cultural artifact, literary fiction, and affective and cognitive processes," Kidd and Castano say in the October 3, 2013 news release, "Reading literary fiction improves 'mind-reading' skills."