Failed replication study shows reading literary fiction doesn’t boost social cognition

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Pace University, Boston College and the University of Oklahoma tried to replicate the findings using the original study materials and methodology, the results didn’t hold up.

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“Reading a short piece of literary fiction does not seem to boost theory of mind,” said Deena Weisberg, a senior fellow in Penn’s psychology department in the School of Arts & Sciences, referring to the notion that describes a person’s ability to understand the mental states of others. “Literary fiction did not do any better than popular fiction, expository non-fiction and not any better than reading nothing at all.”

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The research team published its results in a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Initially, Pace and Weisberg ’s Thalia Goldstein needed to repeat the first study, conducted at the New School for Social Research, to comprehend how an unique storytelling kind and such a minimal intervention could result in this reaction.

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Would literary fiction not be especially bad at doing this? Why not romance literature, which is mostly about relationships? Or why not something more absorbing Weisberg said. “Literature is more difficult to consume. Those questions got me lift my eyebrows.”

The pair followed the released study to the letter. They used contents and the narratives from the initial work, using layout and the same measures, in the hopes of drawing the same decision, including a theory-of-head measure called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, or RMET. They worked closely with New School research workers to ensure correctness. Results in hand, they started talking with other associations, learning that Oklahoma and BC scientists had tried — and failed — to reproduce these results also. They collaborated to put the paper together.

A light not only shines on issues with the conclusions but also strengthens a more comprehensive problem with which the subject has been grappling.

“Psychology has been doing lots of soul searching recently,” Weisberg said. “There’s been lots of focus to high profile studies that reveal something of societal significance. It’d be awesome if we could set into area interventions on the foundation of this study, but we actually need to double check instead of simply rely on one laboratory, one study, before we proceed yelling from the rooftops.”

Weisberg doesn’t blow off the notion that a man’s social cognition could positively impact. The truth is, she and her collaborators also managed the Writer Recognition Test, which quantifies life exposure to all genres of fiction: From a list of 130 names — some actual authors, some foils — participants were requested to choose all actual writers they understood with conviction. They were penalized for wrong responses and for thinking. The researchers then analyzed for relationships between social cognition and this measure, once again using the RMET, which asks participants to select the right description of the emotion the eyes express and offers a picture of eyes.

In this instance, they noticed a powerful relationship: The more writers participants understood, the better they scored on the social cognition measure.

“One short exposure to fiction won’t have an effect, but maybe a protracted engagement with fictional narratives such that you foster your abilities, maybe that could,” Weisberg said. It ’s additionally potential the causality is the other way around: It could be individuals who are great at theory of head read a lot. They enjoy participating in narratives with folks.”

The next stage of research entails looking in more detail at other variables. Does literary fiction enhance social skills for some individuals but not others? Maybe other types of fiction work? What character characteristics make someone more likely to feel the effect?

Part of the first study’s allure came from its defense of reading literature. It’s not impossible this type of connection will be shown, but, for now, writers will continue to stand on their own values, and psychology will continue answering questions about what works best to participate our social-cognitive skills.