Toronto: Reading novels may make you more empathetic, improving your ability to understand what other people are thinking or feeling, a new study suggests. Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, explains that we understand stories using basic cognitive
functions, and there is not a special module in the brain that allows us to do this.
Understanding stories is similar to the way we understand the real world. "When people read stories we invoke personal experiences. We're relying not just on words on a page, but also our own past experiences," Mar said. "We often have thoughts and emotions that are consistent
with what's going on in a story," he said.
According to Mar, social outcomes that could come out of being exposed to narrative fiction can include exposure to social content, reflecting on past social interactions, or imagining future interactions. "We may gain insight into things that have happened in the past that relates to a character in a story, and resonates with our experiences," Mar said.
"Even though fiction is fabricated, it can communicate truths about human psychology and relationships," he said. According to one study, over 75 per cent of books typically read to preschoolers frequently reference mental states, and include very complex things such as false-belief or situational irony.
"Children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old acquire a theory-of-mind, in other words, an understanding that other people have thoughts, beliefs and desires that may differ from their own. Around the same ages, children also begin to understand what characters in stories are feeling and thinking," he said.
In 2010, Mar and colleagues published a study which found that parents that were able to recognise children's authors and book titles predicted their child's performance on theory-of-mind tests. The research was presented at the American Psychological Association's Annual Convention in US.
Updated Date: Aug 12, 2014 14:06:30 IST