It’s better to read than not read — that much is true — but for fiction lovers, the type of fiction one chooses to read can provide different social cognition benefits, according to new research.
While the works of popular authors like Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, and Jodi Picoult may be the talk of book clubs when new installments release, reading literary fiction — like works by authors Ernest Hemingway and Toni Morrison — can produce greater attributional complexity and social accuracy compared to popular fiction, which can create a greater egocentric bias.
The study, published in PLOS One, was conducted by Emanuele Castano, Alison Jane Martingano, and Pietro Perconti. Castano had previously published a study in 2013 that showed evidence of literary fiction’s powers in bettering one’s mental states, but his continued research shows how it can benefit “collective and strategic intelligence.”
“The original work, published with my former student David Kidd in the journal Science, showed that not all fiction shapes how we think in the same way. We distinguished between literary (e.g. Don Delillo, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munroe) and popular fiction (e.g. Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, Jackie Collins), and showed that it is by reading literary fiction that you enhance your mindreading abilities — you are better at inferring and representing what other people think, feel, their intentions, etc,” Castano said, via PsyPost.
“In the latest article… we broaden the spectrum of variables we look at, and most importantly we develop our argument about the two types of fiction and their role in our society.”
The difference between literary and popular fiction is simple. Literary fiction “engages readers in a discourse that formers them to fill in narrative gaps and search for meanings,” per the study’s authors. It forces readers to think more and take in multiple perspectives of the world within the novel, and the material world.
Popular fiction takes on a “more passive role,” according to the study. It’s the predictable love story or heartbreak, works that follow a path that become more about telling instead of showing.
For the study, researchers had 493 participants with an average age of 34 complete a version of the Author Recognition Test, an exam of a list of names that participants are asked to identify any authors they recognize, according to the study. Participants were given scores based on the number of correctly identified literary authors and popular authors.
Other tests like the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test and more were conducted by researchers.
Researchers said that the results revealed there were differences between participants who read literary fiction opposed to popular fiction. Literary fiction literary fiction “paints a more complex picture of human affairs, and of the human psyche, than popular fiction,” according to researchers, while they “develop more complex schemas about others, their behavior, and about the social world they inhabit.”
While literary fiction has it benefits and may prompt different social cognition processes or ideas, there’s nothing wrong with reading popular fiction.
“[This study] should not be interpreted as a suggestion that literary fiction is better than popular fiction,” the study concluded.