How fiction books influence our mental health


Corinne McDevitt

Shannon Eppich writes on the benefits of fiction reading.

Shannon Eppich, Staff Reporter

Some days it’s easier to let ourselves slip from our own reality into a more exciting, adventurous one. Reading is one of the many ways people do just that, taking a break from our busy schedules to sit down and enjoy someone else’s story rather than our own. Even better, there is research that backs up the idea that fiction books can improve our mental health and personal growth.

Psychologist Maja Djikic, who studies personality development, mentioned a list of “five potential avenues for self-development through fiction.” These avenues are: 

  • Empathy: By reading a character’s motives and understanding their thoughts, we can more easily develop cognitive empathy. 
  • Social skills: Fiction helps watch interactions and pursue our own to be more honest and understanding. 
  • Learning about ourselves: Books may lead us to figuring out our very own identities. 
  • Personality: These can fluctuate as we read about others and their own personalities, helping us become more open. 
  • Cognitive skills: Going along with the last avenue, reading may open us up to more ideas and what is called “cognitive closure,” or finding the answers we seek.

This isn’t the first time that psychologists have evaluated fiction and our cognitive skills. In another study, social psychologist Emanuele Castano and Ph.D candidate David Kidd pursued five studies with different numbers of participants and different genres of books to measure their capacity to recognize others’ thoughts and feelings. They found that those who read non-fiction had less than impressive results, the people who read genre fiction (mainstream and popular books with focus on plot) were equally trivial, but those that read literary fiction (those that are character focused) had improved more than anticipated.

If you ever feel bad for taking the time to read a fiction novel in order to escape from reality, just know that you are actually improving your own cognitive skills. To all the big fiction readers out there, keep doing what you’re doing!