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Are Readers of Fiction Anti-Social Misfits?
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The November/December 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind addresses this stereotype, putting it to the test of study and scientific psychological analysis. Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley conducted the studies.

The introduction points out that we have learned a lot about the physical world around us from experiments in physics, biology, and the other physical sciences--essentially desktop simulations.

In addition, in recent decades, computer simulations have helped us further in understanding perception, learning, and thinking; games and game theory have given further insights into interaction.

Just as these simulations have helped us understand ourselves and the world around us, so fiction throughout the centuries has improved our ability to understand other human beings, by inviting the reader to take another person's point of view. In other words, empathy.

So though it seems that what looks like a solitary pursuit is actually an exercise in human interaction. Readers of fiction are not solitary withdrawn bookworms, using books to escape reality.

Rather, they are deeply engaged in making mental models of others, learning how someone else might have beliefs and desires different from their own, and empathizing with them. The power of fiction comes from the emotional connection to the characters in a story.

Television? TV shows explore fewer topics and themes that require adopting a character's point of view. In fact, the majority of shows require the watcher to stand aside, point a finger and laugh (or scoff). Seldom is the viewer challenged to explain a protagonist's behavior or analyze the reason for an outcome, as happens regularly with readers of fiction.

The article found that as people send more time reading fiction, they may become more open and perceptive about other people in general, understanding events from another person's point of view. And that people who read predominantly fiction are, in general, less socially isolated and have more social support that people who are largely nonfiction readers.

So much for the stereotype. The answer: "No"

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