Beyond Nonfiction: The Benefits of Reading Fiction


People generally read non-fiction to acquire information. Non-fiction encourages questioning and critical thinking and builds vocabulary. Starting children reading non-fiction will prepare them for the type of reading they will do as adults. Non-fiction texts make up around 84% of adult, real-world reading. However, non-fiction does little to develop emotional intelligence, such as managing motivation, emotions, and decision-making.

Research suggests that reading fiction may provide far more important social and emotional benefits than reading nonfiction. Literary fiction helps people develop critical thinking and empathy, the extent to which a reader feels ‘transported’ by the narrative. However, quality is an important factor.  One experimental study  selected literary works by award-winning or canonical writers and found that readers of this high quality fiction consistently demonstrated improved social cognition compared with those who read lower quality, popular fiction.

Fiction reading also supports theory of mind, the ability to think about others’ thoughts and feelings. “Theory of mind and empathy are important processes in social cognition.”  MRI studies indicate that both rely on brain networks associated with making inferences about mental states of others.  Additional research by the National Institute of Health suggests that reading fiction makes good citizens because reading may improve one’s ability to empathize with and understand the thoughts and feelings of other people.

Furthermore, Science fiction  stimulates imagination and innovation, as it provides futuristic concepts in science and technology.  “Exposure to outside-the-box creative stories may expand  a reader’s ability to engage reality based on science.”

Aside from the enjoyment of relaxation and entertainment, fiction provides both cognitive and non-cognitive benefits. And for improved comprehension, select a tangible, paper-based book.

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Laura M
Laura M

Director of Handle Education with 40+ years experience as teacher and administrator in public secondary education, community college and college. Dedicated to helping parents and teachers to maximize student potential.

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