How fiction might improve empathy

There’s nothing quite like becoming immersed in a good fiction novel; for many readers, it is a way of fueling the imagination, providing a period of escape from the more laborious aspects of daily life. But in a new review, one psychologist claims fiction may be more beneficial than we realize: it has the ability to encourage empathy.


In the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Keith Oatley, of the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Toronto, Canada, discusses how fiction may impact a person’s social skills.


As well as reviewing findings from previous studies assessing this association, he talks about a study conducted by himself and his colleagues that investigated how literary fiction influences readers’ empathetic response in the real world.