This study was echoed last October by further research that was published in Science Magazine. This research showed that reading literary fiction increases the type of emotional intelligence needed to empathize with others.
Pam Belluck summarized the study’s findings in the New York Times. Belluck reported that the study
“found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking. The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity….
Experts said the results implied that people could be primed for social skills like empathy, just as watching a clip from a sad movie can make one feel more emotional….
The researchers — Emanuele Castano, a psychology professor, and David Comer Kidd, a doctoral candidate — found that people who read literary fiction scored better than those who read popular fiction. This was true even though, when asked, subjects said they did not enjoy literary fiction as much. Literary fiction readers also scored better than nonfiction readers — and popular fiction readers made as many mistakes as people who read nothing.