Spending most of your time with fictional people might actually make you nicer to real ones, new research suggests.
A study carried out by Kingston University London researchers found that people who regularly read – particularly fiction – tend to be kinder and more empathetic to their fellow human beings. Those who only watch television, on the other hand, are less compassionate and understanding with others.
Researchers questioned 123 people on their preferences regarding books, TV shows and plays, then quizzed them about the genres of entertainment they prefer to consume – comedy, romance, drama or non-fiction.
Participants were then tested on their interpersonal skills, with researchers asking them about how they behaved toward others, whether they considered other people’s perspectives or feelings and whether they went out of their way to help others.
The findings showed that people who read more tended to have more positive social behaviours and empathy, while those who watched a lot of television demonstrated more antisocial behaviours.
“The findings support previous evidence that exposure to fiction relates to a range of empathetic abilities," said study leader Rose Turner. However, “all forms of fiction are not equal. Associations between empathetic skills, media and genre diverge."
The researchers also found that participants’ preferred entertainment genres were associated with their interpersonal skills and behaviour. Those who preferred fiction, for example, exhibited the best social skills, while romance and drama fans were the most empathetic. Fans of comedy, interestingly, were able to relate to others the most.
"Engaging with fictional prose and comedy, in particular, could be key to enhancing people's empathetic abilities," Turner said.
While the researchers acknowledge that the study doesn’t prove causation – in other words, it’s unclear whether reading makes you more empathetic or if more empathetic people are just more prone to reading – they theorize that those who regularly consume fiction are better equipped to see things from other people’s perspectives.
While further research is needed to better understand this association, feel free to re-read A Game of Thrones (guilt-free) in the meantime.