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Prof. Keith Oatley’s research on how fiction impacts social skills creates buzz 

OISE professor’s work published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences journal

Keith Oatley reading

Above, OISE professor Keith Oatley. His research was recently featured in CNN online,
the Washington Post and many other publications.

OISE professor Keith Oatley’s research into the impact of engaging with fiction shows it can enable people to become more empathetic and less biased.

Oatley outlined his findings and a review of other studies in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 

This most recent work has so far been covered in the Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, the Independent Online, Medical News Today and various other publications.

In a Q&A with OISENews, Oatley shares why and how his research is important.

OISENews: Tell us about your new research and how it's unique...


What is new is that since 2006 when our research group did a study, which was led by, and based on an idea of Raymond Mar, we found that the more fiction people read the more empathy and understanding of others they had.

The topic of the psychology of fiction has taken off, and now several other research groups in Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, Germany and England are involved. The study I just published shows that the centre of the issue is that we need to think of fiction in terms of its subject matter, which is what we human beings are up to with each other, and how we understand them. Literary fiction in particular has been shown to have the effects I discuss in the article, and this probably because it is centred on character and its complexities.

OISENews: Why is this research important?

Oatley: The research is important because we humans are a cooperative species (in our families, with our friends, with colleagues, in society) and in order to cooperate we need to understand others. Fiction enables us to do that better.

OISENews: Who does this research impact, and how?

Oatley: This research should reinforce the need for humanities in universities, and to be an important part of education in schools. It also shows fiction, particularly of the kind that centres on character, in plays, novels, short stories, movies, television series, and even video games, is not just entertainment. It is important for our humanity, and for human society, as important as engineering and business studies.

OISENews: What are the possible implications?

Oatley: People may realize that fiction isn’t just something made-up.

For more on Keith Oatley’s research on fiction and its impact on social skills, see the media coverage below:

Reading is good for your health - CNN online

Does reading fiction make you a better person? Washington Post online

How fiction might improve empathy – Medical News Today

4 ways fiction might make you a better human – Huffington Post Australia

Reading fiction may boost empathy - PsychCentral

Reading a novel can help us understand other people’s points of view- Daily Mail

Reading fiction may encourage empathy – Business Standard