After reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.
The reason, according to the researchers, is that:
Literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.
It’s important to note, however, that studying the effects of what we read on how we interact is not not new at all. Bullock writes:
Previous studies have correlated various types of reading with empathy and sensitivity. More recently, in a field called “theory of mind,” scientists have used emotional intelligence perception tests to study, for example, children with autism.