I have occasionally wondered, as I write fiction, if what I am doing is really a particularly worthwhile way to spend my time. Shouldn’t I be off actually, you know, building something? Inventing something? Saving the planet?
A group of Toronto researchers have compiled a body of evidence showing that bookworms have exceptionally strong people skills.
Their years of research – summed up in the current issue of New Scientist magazine – has shown readers of narrative fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than those who read non-fiction texts. And follow-up research showed that reading fiction may help fine-tune these skills: People assigned to read a New Yorker short story did better on social reasoning tests than those who read an essay from the same magazine.
Those benefits, researchers say, may be because fiction acts as a type of simulator. Reading about make-believe people having make-believe adventures or whirlwind romances may actually help people navigate those trials in real life.
And, yes, science fiction gets mentioned, although in that usual sort of “ooh, how icky” tone one encounters so often in news stories:
And do sci-fi tales about chasing aliens through the galaxy have the same benefits as Alice Munro’s short stories about love and loss?
This is a false dichotomy, of course. A story about chasing aliens through the galaxy can as easily be about love and loss as a story set in the here-and-now.
Besides, I’d argue that if one of the benefits of mundane fiction is that it acts as a “type of simulator” of real life, then one of the benefits of science fiction (oddly enough, maybe even in particular so-called Mundane SF) is that it acts as a type of simulator of how life may be affected by the never-ending and accelerating onslaught of the effects of technological change. So even if science fiction fans may not necessarily have exceptionally strong people skills (and certainly I’ve met a few at conventions who most emphatically did not), they may just possibly have exceptionally strong skills in other important areas, like adjusting to cultural upheavals and dealing with new technology.
And also exceptionally strong alien-chasing skills, of course. You never know when those might come in handy.
(Image: The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg.)
[tags]books, science fiction, reading, psychology[/tags]