Science shows there are many ways to increase your empathy, but there is one that’s easy to do just about anywhere, is inexpensive, and it’s fun: Read novels.
Researchers at Yale have found that reading in general, and reading books in particular, correlates with improved cognitive function and a longer life. Great benefits, huh?!
Brain function overall is essential to our physical health and reading exercises your mind in much the same way that cardo exercises your heart – all especially important as we get older. Reading a book provides more of a workout than reading something shorter, since it requires more attention and more memory.
So reading is good for you, and reading fiction specifically helps your empathy because as you read fiction, you put yourself in the characters’ place. As characters you care about make decisions, you tend to mentally try to understand why, placing yourself into their (fictional) life. This forces you to look at the world from another person’s point of view.
Research also shows that reading novels increases your social skills because the part of your brain that processes the narrative in a novel overlaps with the part of the brain that gives us our ability to understand what someone else is thinking, making us better in social situations.
So what to read? Reading promotes brain function, and reading novels adds the benefit of increased emotional intelligence. But is there something specific you should read? Not really. Just pick novels that appeal to you – something you just can’t put down. Go for books with well-developed characters, as that will improve your empathetic skills. And you might get even more benefit from picking something with a main character that is very different from you. Non-fiction also works, as long as it has great characters and a strong narrative – try a memoir or true-life story.
I’ve been a fiction reader my entire life, blessed to be raised by two parents who loved to read. I’m taking this information as the perfect excuse to spend even more time with a good book – I’m building empathy and working out my brain! If you need something to read, ask a reader – readers always have book suggestions – and start your own workout!
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications
Source: Zetlin, Minda. This Easy Way to Increase Your Own Empathy is Cheap, Fun, and Backed by Science. Inc.com