Reading and empathy… the two may not sound related at first but when you dig a little deeper, they have a strong connection. Reading, and especially the reading of literary fiction, has been studied and proven to strengthen an individual’s empathy towards others. How does this happen, and what can we learn from it to apply in our own lives?
Reading Helps You Identify and Read the Emotions of Others
Studies have shown that when you spend time reading literary fiction, it assists you in learning to identify the emotions of others. Becoming absorbed in a book and then in a particular character’s role builds your sense of empathy and causes you to understand the situation from their viewpoint. Once you build your capacity to identify other individuals’ emotions, you will begin to read them better.
Reading gives you a unique viewpoint, often from right inside the character’s mind. This helps you to see the world through eyes other than your own. If you have trouble reading others’ emotions, try spending at least a short time each day reading fiction.
Reading Helps Improve Your Social Perception
Social perception is the study of how individuals form their impressions of other people and make inferences about them. Part of this is reading body language. Amazingly, when you are subjected to the reading of literary fiction, your social perception grows, along with the ability to understand others to a deeper extent.
Social perception includes being able to read a person’s emotions in context. Reading improves this aspect by explaining a character’s actions and intent. Often, some of the things that go unsaid in our own lives are laid bare in a book. This can be of great benefit to all people, especially those who have trouble understanding the social cues of others.
Another important aspect of social perception is the fact that most good books make a lot of inferences. Rather than always stating the obvious, they give only enough to leave you wondering and force you to decide the obvious for yourself. This gives you practice in being able to translate the tiny details of what you see into the truth of what you understand.
Reading Heightens Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence, known as EQ, is now widely spoken of. It is not enough to be well educated if you cannot communicate and share your knowledge with others. It is said that EQ maybe even more important than IQ. As Plato once said, “All learning has an emotional base.” If you wish to communicate effectively, you must understand your own emotions and the emotions of others.
Emotional intelligence includes perceiving, reasoning with, understanding and managing emotions. If you leave out any one of these, your EQ will be lacking. Reading helps each of these areas to grow through identifying with characters and cheering for a positive outcome for them. The emotion invested in a good book and the people in it will take you far in your ability to care and connect with other humans.
Reading, especially reading good literary fiction, gives you more than just a few moments of relaxation. Reading exercises many parts of your brain and makes you a more complete individual. If you are hoping to grow in your empathy, grab a good book, sit down and read.