Does Literary Fiction Help You Read Minds?

Article by Dan Arel

I read a lot. However, I mostly focus on history, politics or science. I rarely break out a good piece of literary fiction. Though, after reading this recent study from the New School for Social Research, in which they studied the correlation between what people read and how well they read faces….

In the study, recently published in the journal Science, the team of Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd studied how people reacted to social cues, such as measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence by comparing those who read literary fiction from authors such as Chekhov and Alice Munro versus those who read popular fiction (such as Danielle Steel).

LibraryThe subjects were split into three groups: Group A was given excerpts from award-winning literary fiction (Don DeLillo, Wendell Berry, etc.); Group B was given best sellers (like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” a Rosamunde Pilcher romance or a Robert Heinlein science fiction tale); and Group C would read nothing at all. Then, each group was given a computerized test to see how its members judged participant’s emotions, expectations or beliefs.

Group A did incredibly well at measuring a variety of social cues, while groups B and C both scored about the same, and did significantly less well. It is rather outstanding that in the short 5-10 min time-span each group was given to read their assigned readings that the researchers were able to see a difference in the participant’s ability to judge social cues.

I found this study very interesting on a personal level because I tend to read academic-level non-fiction and feel I learn a great deal, but I realize I’m missing out on a whole greater level of learning and education. I was one who would tend to write off fiction as unimportant and for entertainment value only. This study forces me to rethink my entire view on fiction. While I will not likely gain much social knowledge from reading the Twilight series, I know I can gain a host of social knowledge by reading some of the worlds literary greats.

However, I would love to see some follow up studies; while this is more than enough reason to sit down with some great fiction I have avoided, I would like to know more from this study. How long do these effects last? If I spend three months reading a handful of the best that fiction has to offer, will I have a lifetime of social knowledge?

So sit back, open up your favorite award-winning fiction, and start reading peoples minds. Be one step ahead in social situations. (Actual mind reading abilities may vary).

Want to be a part of further research on this study? Visit this site for more info.


  • Kidd, David C., and Emanuele Castano. “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” Science Magazine, 3 Oct. 2013. [URL]
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