The Loh Down On Science

Reading Minds

Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts.

Reading Tolstoy? "Portrait of a Woman" (1881) by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837–1887).

If you’re good at reading books, are you good at reading people?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying:

Perhaps so, if you’re not reading just any old schlock, but literary fiction. 

So say psychologists David Kidd and Emanuele Castano, of the New School for Social Research.

They think reading literature hones our ability to understand others.  Why?  Because we use the same skills to understand fictional characters.  What motivates them?  Why is he so mad at that whale?  Why doesn't she realize she loves Mister Darcy?  Why???

The duo tested their hypothesis in a series of experiments.  Nonfiction versus fiction.  High-falutin’ literary fiction versus popular fiction. 

Subjects read brief excerpts from just one genre, then took tests to measure their ability to understand others.  For example, could they tell what a stranger was feeling just by looking at a photo of their eyes?

Turns out the literary fiction readers did better at these mind-reading tests than everyone else. 

Critics say the study had flaws. 

I say, hedge your bets and read both A Picture of Dorian Gray and Fifty Shades of .  If you can.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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