Reading Fiction Improves Relationships (and Improves Your Mood)

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In an interesting new study, researchers found that reading fictional stories will increase your empathy for others, improve your ability to see things from another's point of view, raise your social awareness, and make you more open to new experiences.

All these results improve the quality of relationships, which is, of course, one of the most important generators of good moods.

Reading fiction gets its power from your emotional connection to the characters in the story. While reading, you temporarily set aside your own point of view and goals and take on the goals and point of view of the characters in the story. This functions as a kind of training. "Just as computer simulations have helped us understand perception, learning and thinking," writes Keith Oatley, "stories are simulations of a kind that can help readers understand not just the characters in books but human character in general."

In another article, Oatley wrote, "In fiction...we are able to understand characters' actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have. And it turns out that psychologically there is a big difference between these two points of view. We usually take the exterior view of others, but that's too limited."

In addition to the long-term benefits, the process of reading stories is also relaxing and enjoyable. Reading is one of the most reliable ways to produce flow — a psychological state that positively influences your mood (read more about that here).

So reading fiction can improve your mood immediately, and then improve it again in a different way with its long term effect.

Reading books has gone out of fashion, especially in the last ten years, and especially among college-age people. It is probably not a coincidence that another study has shown a thirty-year decline in empathy in college-age people, "with an especially steep drop in the past ten years," says Jamil Zaki in a Scientific American article published earlier this year.

There is no need for this to happen to you. You can improve your relationships and be happier using this simple tool: Reading fiction.

3 comments:

Sarah K. 11:04 AM  

You have just–made-my-day!!!

I love fiction and have started to get back into reading on a regular basis. However, I had an internal struggle going about whether I should be reading more "beneficial" a.k.a. non-fiction, books. Thanks to your blog, I feel liberated!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some reading to do...

Adam Khan 2:20 AM  

Good to hear, Sarah! I just came across more on reading fiction. The news just keeps getting better. The following is an excerpt from this article:

According to a new study, you are what you read — in your head at least. When we read we don't just identify with the characters, we psychologically become part of their world and take away emotional benefits.

Psychologists at the University at Buffalo studied the phenomenon by having 140 subjects read excerpts from the Harry Potter or Twilight books and answer a questionnaire. They found that when absorbing a story, we can psychologically become a member of the characters' social group, and the process provokes feelings of satisfaction similar to what we'd experience after a making a real connection with another person.

Shira Gabriel, an associate professor of psychology at UB, explains:

"Social connection is a strong, human need, and anytime we feel connected to others, we feel good in general, and feel good about our lives. Our study results demonstrate that the assimilation of a narrative allows us to feel close to others in the comfort of our own space and at our own convenience ... In our subjects, this led to a reported increase in life satisfaction and positive mood, which are two primary outcomes of belonging."

Adam Khan 2:23 AM  

Another report on the same study said this:

"...we not only feel like the characters we read about but, psychologically speaking, become part of their world and derive emotional benefits from the experience."

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