Read for More Empathy
A new study finds you can increase your emotional intelligence by reading the right things.
Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project
If you want to increase your emotional intelligence, social perception and empathy, scientists now say you should crack open a book.
But not just any book. Reading literary fiction – as opposed to popular fiction or serious non-fiction – could help you perform better in job interviews, on dates, or in any one-on-one situation. Those are the results of a new study published in the journal Science, which reports that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to infer emotional nuances and complexity.
In the study, social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City found a broad pool of volunteers through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where people sign up to earn money for completing small jobs. The New York Times noted that volunteers were each paid $2 or $3 to read a few minutes of excerpts from award-winning literary fiction (Don DeLillo, Wendell Berry), while others were given best-sellers like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” a Rosamunde Pilcher romance or a Robert Heinlein science fiction tale. The researchers turned to nonfiction from Smithsonian magazine to round out the selections.
After reading the various genres – or in some cases nothing – volunteers took computerized tests measuring their ability to read people’s emotions. The Times published one of those tests, called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes,” in which you study 36 photographs of pairs of eyes and choose which of four adjectives best describe what the person in the picture is feeling. You can take the test yourself here.
The results, so far, have been hailed as remarkable – that reading a certain kind of literature can prime you for a more empathetic response. What do you think? Could it help in situations that require a more responsible approach to other people?