The Benefits of Literary Fiction
The genre I write in is literary fiction, which appears to be unique in its ability to affect human behavior. I have previously written about a biologic basis for empathy. Now researchers have demonstrated that reading literary fiction increases the human capacity for empathy, whereas reading genre fiction, non-fiction, or not reading at all failed to increase measures of empathy. It is speculated that the subtle nature of literary fiction, and its particular ability to cause readers to inhabit the minds and lives of characters, is responsible for this unique empathic effect.
Another recent article describes it this way: “Fiction is the simulation of selves in interaction. People who read it improve their understanding of others. This effect is especially marked with literary fiction, which also enables people to change themselves…”
The unique quality of literary fiction to foster empathy is why I have long advocated a mandatory requirement for medical schools to include literary fiction in their curriculum, which some schools do. A doctor’s ability to experience illness from a patient’s perspective is what separates physicians who are merely Board Certified from those who are elite Healers.