Editor's note: Giving the gift of a book, especially literary fiction, can help develop empathy in the reader. We have excerpted the following from The Literacy Site.
Studies are showing that readers of fiction are more empathetic towards others. By engaging with a story, readers are temporarily placing themselves in a character’s shoes, therefore, the more stories you read, the more shoes you’ve tried on. It’s a fascinating insight into the world of reading.
In 2012, Standford University did research into why this is. According to neuroscientist Bob Dougherty, “The right patterns of ink on a page can create vivid mental imagery and instill powerful emotions.”
Your brain does amazing things while you’re reading, the breadth of which researchers are still defining. And by placing yourself into the world of a great novel, you are given the chance to experience something new that could be informative in your interactions with other people.
... which books should we be reading to maximize these cognitive benefits?
The authors of another study, David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, tackled this question, but also asserted that what you choose read is important!
Through their research, they found that readers of literary fiction receive more of the empathetic benefits of reading than those who read pop-fiction or non-fiction. The term “literary fiction” seems arbitrary, but Kidd and Castano explain that literary fiction merely denotes the level of complexity in stories and their characters (at least, that’s what it means in the context of their study).