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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Reading literature increases social perception, study says

<p>Nathan Klemm, a mechanical engineering sophomore, reads a book before heading to class Oct. 7. A recent study suggests people who read often are considered more emotionally intelligent.</p>

Nathan Klemm, a mechanical engineering sophomore, reads a book before heading to class Oct. 7. A recent study suggests people who read often are considered more emotionally intelligent.

UF students looking to understand their peers may want to put down their smartphones and pick up Dostoevsky.

A study published in the journal Science earlier this month found literary fiction increases people’s social perception and emotional intelligence.

The study, conducted by researchers at The New School for Social Research in New York City, compared the effect literary fiction has on people’s empathy, as opposed to popular fiction and nonfiction.

Researchers discovered that people temporarily scored higher on social perception tests after reading literary fiction.

Gregory Webster, an assistant professor of psychology at UF, said the results seem logical.

“The way we understand each other is by understanding emotions and emotional reactions,” he said. “One way to understand different perspectives is through stories.”

Webster said literary fiction increases social perception more than other types of writing because it usually has more character depth and different perspectives.

“If I can understand how a literary character thinks and feels, I’ll probably better understand how other people view things,” Webster said.

Norman Holland, a UF English professor emeritus and writer of “Literature and the Brain,” has extensively researched the psychology of reading.

He said the emotional reaction people feel when reading a story is very real.

Two different parts of your brain process emotions and stories, so readers can know a story is fiction but still have an emotional response, he said.

Holland said he questions the findings, though.

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“The mere act of reading doesn’t make you a more sensitive person,” he said. “The act of reading, thinking and talking about it makes you more sensitive.”

UF librarian John Van Hook said he also believed there is more to the study than meet the eye.

“You don’t convince people to read literary fiction by telling them it’s good for them any more than you could expect results by saying the same thing about running, falling in love or listening to Mozart,” he said.

David Leavitt, a UF English professor, said he was pleased with the research findings.

“The results kind of validated something that I have often believed and that has been a principle of my teaching,” he said.

Jillian Boyar, a 19-year-old UF biology sophomore, said she enjoys reading, but she doesn’t think studies like these will increase college students’ interest in reading literature.

“With social media, people do a lot less pleasure reading,” Boyar said. “It’s easier to mess around on Facebook than to open up ‘War and Peace.’”

A version of this story ran on page 3 on 10/15/2013 under the headline "Literary fiction increases social perception, study says"

Nathan Klemm, a mechanical engineering sophomore, reads a book before heading to class Oct. 7. A recent study suggests people who read often are considered more emotionally intelligent.

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