Bibliophiles looking to get plain old phile can draw comfort from apparent scientific proof of how good their reading habits can be for their love lives. A recent article in Elite Daily summarizes this, although it also claims that: “readers, like voicemail leavers and card writers, are now a dying breed, their numbers decreasing with every GIF list and online tabloid. The worst part about this looming extinction is that readers are proven to be nicer and smarter than the average human, and maybe the only people worth falling in love with on this shallow hell on earth.”
Kindle sales figures and the record profits of publishing companies would kind of work against the proposition that readers are a dying breed, but leave that on one side for now. The capacity of reading to deliver empathy, enhance emotional intelligence, and generally improve human insight into the experiences of other humans has now been so well attested that it shouldn’t even need saying any more. If anyone still wants to see brains as computers, words are the software, and someof the reprogramming for greater emotional intelligence can best be done by sustained absorption of evocative language focused on the topic – in other words, fiction and literature.
Elite Daily quotes 2010 research from Raymond Mar on the development of theory of mind (read: human sympathy and understanding) in children. “Exposure to different forms of narrative media may influence children’s development of theory-of-mind,” goes the abstract. “Because engagement with fictional narratives provides one with information about the social world, and possibly draws upon theory-of-mind processes during comprehension, exposure to storybooks, movies, and television may influence theory-of-mind development.” And following this, there is 2013 research from David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano which concludes that “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” The abstract runs:
Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults. We present five experiments showing that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective ToM (experiments 1 to 5) and cognitive ToM (experiments 4 and 5) compared with reading nonfiction (experiments 1), popular fiction (experiments 2 to 5), or nothing at all (experiments 2 and 5). Specifically, these results show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM. More broadly, they suggest that ToM may be influenced by engagement with works of art.
So there you are. If you want to be a better lover, move away from The Joy Of Sex and try genuine literature. If nothing else, at least it’ll give you some good opening lines and points of contact in cafes and bookstores.