February 22, 2014
All These Benefits: Reasons To Read More (Part Three)
As explained in part one and part two of this series on the benefits of reading, people read for many reasons. For some, reading is an oasis, a getaway from the hum-drum of our everyday lives. For others, reading is an adventure, a moment to experience that which we cannot or do not normally experience. For some others still, reading is all about learning. There are many reasons to read, and redOrbit found one more: reading helps strengthen the “skills essential to understanding other people’s mental states,” as well as the skills necessary for processing complex social relationships. Specifically, the redOrbit article and video talked about the benefits of reading literary fiction.
Traditionally, literary fiction is that which holds literary merit; in other words, it is more serious fiction. Often works from classic literature, as well as those from the literary canon, fall into this category. In the English discipline, we often refer to these as “the classics.” Books like Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Stoker’s Dracula, and many more fall into this category. However, literary fiction is ongoing even today. Rilla Askew’s Kind of Kin is a good example of contemporary literary fiction.
As redOrbit explains, reading this literary fiction provides great benefits in the skills of understanding others. To come to these conclusions, “researchers selected texts using three different categories of writing – literary fiction, popular fiction and nonfiction. Excerpts of National Book Award finalists and winners of the 2012 PEN/O. Henry Prize for short fiction were chosen to represent literary fiction works. Popular fiction samples came from Amazon.com bestsellers or anthology of recent popular fiction, and non-fiction works were pulled from the pages of Smithsonian Magazine.” Moreover, researchers then sought to measure the participant’s Theory of Mind (ToM), which is “the ability to attribute various mental states (beliefs, desires, intentions, etc.) to both oneself and others.”
What they found specifically was that “Throughout the five different types of tests, the authors reported that participants who had been assigned to read works of literary fiction improved significantly more on ToM tests than the members of the other two groups, whose performances on the tests were nearly identical.” All this shows that literary quality of fiction directly impacts the ToM, which obviously impacts how others understand mental states. Because literary fiction often requires deeper mental engagement, creative thought, and even more active reading, readers build skills necessary for social relationships.
What this shows is that in addition to the traditional benefits of reading, reading literary fiction benefits our abilities to be better companions, friends, co-workers, and family members.
In this series of the benefits of reading, I have outlined the serious benefits, fun benefits, and now this social relationship benefit. Here’s a brief rehash of the former two:
- Reading teaches us stuff.
- Reading helps lower stress.
- Reading is totally good for the brain.
- Reading builds our communication skills.
- Reading may help us sleep better.
- Reading helps build empathy.
- Reading improves imagination.
- Reading allows us to do what we can’t normally do.
- Reading allows us to explore other places.
- Reading is a getaway.
- Reading inspires us.
- Reading is just fun.
Additionally, we see that reading improves our abilities to relate to others. That’s 13 different reasons we need to read more. I’d say that’s a good start.
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