Friday, March 16, 2012

Reading for fun

 Why do some people love to read fiction while other people would rather watch paint dry? I find that reading allows me to step into another reality in a way that watching a movie or playing a computer game does not. It's the only medium that allows one to truly get inside the head of another person and to see the world through his or her eyes. I know that my attitudes about a lot of things have been influenced by characters I've encountered in books. In a world where it's becoming harder and harder to connect with people at anything other than a superficial level, I find myself especially drawn to this aspect of reading.
            But not everyone finds the experience to be exhilarating. I had a friend tell me once that he feels like he's being 'manipulated' when he tries to read a novel--because it's trying to make him care about/believe in something/someone that he doesn't care about or believe in. It does make me why some people find themselves bored or annoyed by the experience, rather than intrigued. I also wonder why this particular person finds novels more 'manipulative' in that way than, say, a TV show or movie.
            Now as a nerdy scientist, I find myself wondering if anyone has ever done research to find out whether reading lots of fiction expands ones capacity for empathy (and if so, which forms of empathy). If it does, would it mean that a world where people read less fiction will be a world where people will have a harder time relating to the emotional states of others? It is also possible, of course, that people who are empathetic to some degree like reading because they already enjoy vicariously experiencing other peoples' emotions. So which comes first?

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