When we were young, we asked our parents to tell us stories to put us to sleep. As we grew older, we used stories to pass the time, transport into a different world, or learn about a new subject.
But did you know that stories or fiction give us more than that? Recent studies observed that fiction reading does more for us than keeping us company. It improves the way we deal with others and enhances the way we think.
For this reason, encouraging reading is crucial. For reluctant readers, letting them write their own stories and then read them afterward is a good start. To preserve these narratives, look for free online book publishing materials or services and have them book bound.
Going back, here are how stories affect us:
Fiction and empathy
Fiction, especially the narrative ones, make us more empathic of others. This happens because stories are structured in a way that reflects the real world. The fictional characters have the attributes of a real human being, and the experiences they go through in the story are mostly realistic as well.
This structure triggers the readers’ emotion; hence, their affective impression is affected as well. One proof that stories affect the readers’ affective domain is that the readers can relate to at least one of the characters. They become empathic with this character, and so when a similar situation happens in real life, the reader may act the way the fictional character behaved.
For example, if the character in the story is understanding to paupers, the reader may be compassionate with them in real life, too.
Fiction and prosocial behavior
Fiction per se does not directly make one prosocial, but empathy does. Since in the previous section we established that fiction enhances one’s empathy level, it is also possible that as readers become more empathic, they become more prosocial as well.
According to a study by Decety, Bartal, Uzefovsky, and Knafo-Noam entitled Prosocial Behaviour Empathy, empathy is to prosocial behavior as anger is to aggression. When you’re angry, there is a tendency that you become aggressive. In a similar manner, you are more helpful of others when you are empathetic towards them.
In 2005, McMahon et al. proved this point by measuring the empathy level of students and their willingness to help others (prosocial behavior). The study concluded that although the positive correlation between these two variables is more pronounced in male participants than in female, in general, students with high empathy levels are more helpful than the ones who fared low.
Fiction and theory of mind
Aside from influencing us to feel the way others feel or be helpful to them, reading fiction also teaches us to understand why others feel a certain way. This ability is called mentalizing or theory of mind. When we understand why others behave or feel this way or that, we become sociable and we create a good connection with others.
Do non-fiction texts have the same effect?
According to studies, non-fiction texts do not affect us the way fiction does because its structure is different. The way the stories unfold in the latter part is different. We process information in fictional narratives the same way we do in the real world because, as previously mentioned, stories reflect reality.
In addition, the language used in fiction tickles our emotion and imagination better, which also affects the way we think, and consequently, act.