Many believe that reading fiction can improve social skills (i.e., empathy; e.g., Spruce, 2019; Willard & Buddie, 2019), yet this is an exploratory area of research with limited empirical studies. This presentation will discuss psychological (e.g., social cognitive theory and reading; Johnson, Cushman, Borden, & McCune, 2013) and literary theories, and interventions supporting how reading fiction may improve emotional intelligence to understand better-marginalized populations and their experiences (e.g., Batson et al., 1997; Koopman, 2016) and integrate into one’s self-concept (Bal & Veltkamp, 2013). Reading to improve empathy may best be achieved by using mindfulness as an evidenced-based judgment-free skill to be present in the moment (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010). Mindfulness has biopsychological benefits in improving subjective experiences and cognitive abilities (e.g., Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998; Spruce, 2019; Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Therefore, mindful reading may increase social skill development by facilitating emotional transportation into a story. Within the story, the reader may explore complex social situations and self-reflection (e.g., Bal & Veltkamp, 2013; Johnson, Cushman, Borden, & McCune, 2013), the perspective-taking of others (e.g., Frith & Frith, 2006; McCreary & Marchant, 2017), and exercise prosocial behavior such as empathy first in a simulated environment and later in their real social interactions (e.g., Mar, Oatley, & Peterson, 2009). There have been few studies, but it is believed there may be a delayed effect to seeing increased empathy from reading fiction (e.g., Bal & Veltkamp, 2013; Spruce, 2019). The implications could benefit children and adults interested in improving social skills.
Charlotte Williams, Bismarck State College, United States