Reading fiction helps develop empathy


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To become more empathic, it has been suggested to read more fiction books.

It’s a rainy dreary day and you have nowhere to be, so you pull out your favorite novel and begin to read. What many might not know is that, through the action of reading a fiction novel, you are learning how to empathize with others. 

Americans are beginning to care less about others and more about themselves, claims the American Psychological Association

A potential solution might just be to read more fiction. 

“Reading literary fiction helps people develop empathy, theory of mind, and critical thinking,” according to the Harvard business review

We are surrounded by works of fiction every day, whether it be TV shows, novels, films or comic strips. 

“In these narrative worlds we experience a simulated reality and feel real emotions in response to the conflicts and relationships of story characters,” said Canadian psychologist Keith Oatley in a study he conducted. 

It is the connection between the reader and the characters that allows us to feel empathy for them, to enter their world and go through their experiences. 

“There is growing evidence that reading narratives, even those explicitly labeled as fiction, is far from a meaningless leisure activity that ends when one closes the cover of a book,” Oatley said. 

Additionally, NIU director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in English, Melissa Adams-Campbell, is captivated by literature and the emotions a person can feel when reading. 

“I think that English has always been, for me personally, a place where I can escape the troubles of whatever’s going on in life,” Campbell said. 

When you are reading a story, you are forced to think about the thoughts and actions of the protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters, thus enabling you to do the same with your peers in the real world.  

“If there’s a catastrophe, you might just want to hide on a sofa with a blanket over your head but a hero in the story might come out and be very brave and confrontational,” Campbell said. “You have to imagine other ways of being in the world and that makes you, I think, more attentive to how people act in the nonfiction world.” 

With October being National Book Month, there is no better time than the present to pick up the book you have been putting off for too long, dust off the cover and start reading.