“She’s lost in a book, just like her mother,” noted my mother. She was referring to my daughter and to me. Growing up, I spent hours curled up with books. Reading provided me with escape, and the ability to travel to different worlds without leaving my home in rural Georgia. Little did I know that, in addition to entertaining me, reading fiction sharpened my social skills without even requiring that I be social by placing me in simulated social situations
In “Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds,” (Raymond Mar et al, University of Toronto, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 40, Issue 5, October 2006), the researchers tested and compared the social skills of fiction and non-fiction readers.
The study included 94 participants who were separated into fiction and non-fiction readers based on their recognition of authors’ names and what they told the investigators about their reading preferences. The participants were then tested to determine their interpersonal skills. Three tests were used: Interpersonal Reactivity Index (measuring empathy), the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test (determing a person’s mental states based on his or her eyes), and the Interpersonal Perception Task-15 (in which videos are shown, questions are asked and interpersonal sensitivity and social skills are determined). Finally, the interpersonal skills of fiction and non-fiction readers were compared.