National Book Lovers Day 2016: Reading Fiction Encourages Empathy, May Help You Live Longer

Some children decide they want to ride broomsticks and go to wizard school, while others may be found crying on their beds because they learned too soon the meaning of death via scarlet fever through a sad velveteen rabbit. Either way, books leave an indelible imprint on our lives. On Tuesday, National Book Lovers Day, we celebrate this.

Books are magical and wonderful, help us live longer lives, and can even make us more empathetic creatures who are sensitive to different cultures and races, according to the latest research. So how do we celebrate? We are encouraged to find our favorite reading place, a great book, and dive in.  

Scientific research is acknowledging the powerful effect books have on our lives, opinions, and emotions, which could help us understand the enduring popularity of terrible Harlequin romances, or why people believe ghostwritten autobiographies are authentic contributions to the historical record. A new study out of Yale says book readers can expect to live an extra two years, Medical News Today reported, while a review from the University of Toronto posits that book-reading encourages empathy (perhaps explaining the crying over the rabbit.)

Books Celebrate National Book Lovers Day 2016 by grabbing your favorite novel, or a great new release, and get reading. Photo courtesy of Domas

Keith Oatley, a professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, says interest around literature and psychology has taken off in the last few years. “There’s a bit of a buzz about it now,” he said in a recent statement. “In part, because researchers are recognizing that there’s something important about imagination.”

Oatley, who is also a novelist, says reading fiction, especially literary fiction, “simulates a kind of social world, prompting understanding and empathy in the reader.” Oatley notes that other studies have shown that books can even generate empathy for a race or culture different than one’s own, such as the case with “Saffron Dreams,” a tale about a Muslim woman in New York. Study participants who read the story were found to have reduced bias in the perception of Arab and Caucasian faces compared to a control group.

So, a cowboy may not be coming to sweep you off your feet and carry you into the sunset, but his story may help you care a little more about ranchers and their plights in the American West (especially if it’s very well-told). Read on.

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