Does reading help my social life?

Nothing more fun about a blog than the opportunity to link to people I think are right. It’s a way of saying “this is what I would have said if I’d thought it about it earlier”.

And now for today’s “Person I agree with”:

Psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley.

Katie Christian writes at the UTNE Reader:

An activity as solitary as reading a work of fiction may actually help us become better at connecting with others, writes psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley in Greater Good.

Oatley says fiction is about “possible selves in possible worlds,” and can aid interpersonal skills in two ways: by helping readers develop “theory of mind”—imagining what others are thinking and feeling—as well as showing how people interact with one another.

Readers of fiction were found to have higher social ability than those who preferred non-fiction. The reason?

“Fiction is principally about the difficulties of selves navigating the social world. Non-fiction is about, well, whatever it is about: selfish genes, or how to make Mediterranean food, or whether climate changes will harm our planet. So with fiction we tend to become more expert at empathizing and socializing. By contrast, readers of non-fiction are likely to become more expert at genetics, or cookery, or environmental studies, or whatever they spend their time reading and thinking about.”

True dat Keith Oatley. I am IMMEDIATELY suspicious of anyone who says, “I prefer non-fiction”…or even worse, “I don’t read books”. Get away from me you soulless devils. AWAY!

4 thoughts on “Does reading help my social life?

  1. David

    When I was a teenager I read almost nothing but fiction, now it’s usually non-fiction (or nothing at all….I will now eviscerate myself). I was useless at social interaction when I read fiction and am still just as useless now. 🙂

    “novelist Keith Oatley”

    Hmm, a novelist who wants us to read novels….his novels, perhaps? 😉

  2. Josh

    not that I disagree with the main drift, but fiction is not only about “possible selves in possible worlds”, but is about the actual self in the actual world. The multiplicity is irrelevant – as irrelevant as the page numbers in a book. You might as well say photography is about possible or actual selves in possible or actual worlds – you end up saying nothing. What I mean is that imagination is the arena of the conception of the actual no less than the possible. The characters in a novel are not imaginations in a crucial sense, they are all the Self. The brain patterns echo another’s not by some conscious mimicry of emotion, but because fundamentally there are not two – underlying twoness, two brains, two bodies, is one substratum – of consciousness, the Self, and this is known to all. It is duality that depends on imagination, not Truth. Taking away imagination, where is duality? We become “like” the other “through empathy”, but the deeper fact in this that’s called “empathy” is that we know we are not other at all, it is an appearance of separation, it is not absolute. An emotion – being beyond the grasp of thought or understanding, naturally takes us into this prior realm of our unity. It is our thought and so called “understanding” which is ignorance. The emotion speaks for a higher intelligence of the Heart, and this is true intelligence, without division, and thus, which speaks in silence.

    A good novel is a work of self-knowledge. It is not the author’s self as person but the self of all. Thus the greatest of writers – Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, are in a sense invisible in their work. The value of reading them is in kinship with a mind that had realised in an intense way this invisible almighty Being, from which springs forth creation, a mind that submitted to the Heart and then wrote what occurred to it – the speaker (or poet) then himself or herself becomes silent even in the act of speaking (or writing poetry). Poetry is then not an act of speech but silence – and that is why it is associated with the divine. We sense the act of creation in them (the great writer) as the same as the creation of the actual world we live in.

  3. Alan

    Sort of agreeing with David up there. If you want to get better at socialising, maybe one should socialize? Rather than hiding and reading fiction however fun/escapist that may be…
    What fiction does do, is give the socialising people something to talk about. Then again, so does non-fiction. Hmm…

  4. Sarah Fortuna Post author

    1. Keith Oatley only encourages reading because he wants us to read his novel? David, that takes cynicism to a whole new level!

    2. Alan, I make time in my schedule for humans as well as books! Problem solved.

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