Those of us who read and write regularly know that we’re the better for having engaged with our favorite stories. But are the benefits of reading fiction more concrete than that? Research suggests that they are, according to a recent overview of several studies on the subject that was published on the BBC’s website, along with several other studies in the past. After a bit more research into the subject, we determined that the benefits of reading fiction are not only mental, but physical as well—and ultimately a universal force for good.
Reading Fiction Makes Us More Empathetic
A study by cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley showed that “the process of engagement in stories… includes making inferences and becoming emotionally involved.” Meanwhile, “the contents of fiction… include complex characters and circumstances that we might not encounter in daily life,” which enables us to think about the way that we—and other people—might respond in a situation we’ve never experienced before.
And reading fiction doesn’t just help you identify with people—it can also make you more concerned about the well-being of animals. In a study that focused on literary fiction, some participants were given an excerpt of a book detailing animal abuse to read, and then all participants were given a questionnaire. The result? “In comparison with the control group, the experimental group was significantly more concerned about animal welfare. This result indicates that literary fiction can influence attitudes toward other species.”
Reading Fiction Reduces Racial Bias
Reading fiction has even shown to reduce racial bias. A 2014 study instructed participants to read a story about a non-stereotypical Muslim woman, and then look at a series of photos of Arab-Caucasian people whose races were ambiguous based on their appearance. The results were telling: “Participants who read the narrative exhibited lower categorical race bias by making fewer categorical race judgments and perceiving greater genetic overlap between Arabs and Caucasians.” Another portion of the study showed the faces with angered expressions. Without the narrative, angry expressions were judged to be more Arab—but with the narrative, the bias was eliminated.
Reading Fiction Can Help You Live Longer
Okay, so reading fiction makes you a better person. But the effects can even be physical. One study that took place over 12 years showed that reading fiction for 30 minutes every day can keep your mind sharper and faster as you age. As a result, “book readers experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers.”
The lesson here is clear: If you want to live longer and make the world a better place, pick up a book as often as possible to experience the benefits of reading fiction.
And if reading makes people a better place, imagine how much empathy it takes to write about other people. Of course, not everyone has the time or experience to develop their ideas into a book, which is why our Creative Writing Practice pairs aspiring authors with ghostwriters, developmental editors and publishing professionals who can help those stories come to life. Whether you need help building out an entire novel or you can’t quite make it work, our network of 2,500 bestselling and award-winning editorial professionals can help you execute the best version of your vision.
Do you have a story idea? Pitch it to us below, and we’ll work to match you with a writer like Glenn who can help you bring your vision to life.