Adding fuel to this debate is a new study that found that readers of literary fiction — but not commercial fiction — have a better understanding of other people’s emotions.
The study, which was published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, made 2,000 people do a “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test” where they looked at photos of actors displaying different feelings and tried to pick the right emotion.
The participants were also asked to say which authors they recognized from a list of names that included literary authors like Kazuo Ishiguro and Salman Rushdie as well as commercial authors like Tom Clancy and Stephen King. The result was clear:
Results indicate that exposure to literary but not genre fiction positively predicts performance on a test of theory of mind, even when accounting for demographic variables including age, gender, educational attainment, undergraduate major.