Does reading fiction make you a better person?

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I instinctively answer yes to this question and that got me thinking!  Do I have any basis for this view?

I thought it was obvious.  The biggy for me is

Empathy: if I think of how many people’s heads I’ve been in and how many eyes I’ve looked at the world through; that must mean I am more tolerant and empathic?

Knowledge:  I must have learnt some things from reading as long as the authors did their research properly and haven’t just made it up.  Even if they have, they must have got some of the experiential stuff right (what it feels like to gut a fish, riding a motor bike, first love etc).

Tolerance:  Seeing things from a wide range of viewpoints must make you tolerant.

But what about reading books that underline your prejudices and give justification to the unjustifiable.  I have read a few things that I fundamentally disagreed with but which because they are written down and well structured almost had me convinced.  Print carries weight.

I was prompted by an article on the BBC which stated that people who read books are better learners.  So I thought I’d have a quick look around at what evidence based findings were available.  Studies I could find focussed on measuring the impact of reading on intelligence and educational outcomes.  Tolerance and empathy are harder to measure.  It’s not like we have a world of history where all the percieved baddies are illiterate.  Far from it in fact.  It would appear that very few world leaders have had little education, irrespective of whether they were good or bad!

The study What Reading Does for the Mind showed two main findings of the benefits of reading in children.

  1. Early acquisition of reading opened doors to further learning (positive feedback and building the ability to think)
  2. All children benefit from reading, whatever their level of achievement.

This article The Powers of Reading is quite interesting, if a little politically motivated!

So, there’s a library of stuff out there, which lean towards the positive benefits on the individual but I would say a there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn’t a guarantee that it will make you good.  (Good is a hard concept to tie down too).  I would like to think that I am far better for the books I’ve read and I think BIBs in particular must be even better for you, because you aren’t reinforcing your viewpoint with books you have chosen.

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One response

  1. I liked number 2. It’s great to know the reading obviously will never be bad for anyone to do. All it can do is help which is just awesome!

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