How a Regular Dose of Fiction Can Make You a Better Person

“We have discovered that fiction at its best isn’t just enjoyable. It measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.”

–     Dr. Keith Oatley, University of Toronto

My son had the benefit of being mugged the other day. Thankfully, it happened through fiction, in this case, Eric Walters’ book Shattered. He also had the experience of working in a soup kitchen, meeting people who are homeless, and hearing their stories.

My son is a reluctant reader who will only independently gravitate to baseball magazines. Like many other parents of reluctant readers, I do back flips trying to entice him to read books. On a recent occasion, with six baseball-based novels in hand, my son said the following: I hate fiction. It’s not real.

Too bad for him, I had just read about the work of numerous psychologists, as explained in Oatley’s blog post “Changing Our Minds by Reading Fiction” at He pointed out that fiction is a simulation for our social and emotional worlds. Though not true stories, they are real in their ability to act as experience that shapes who we are. And in fact, these researchers do find evidence that readers of fiction change as a result. Knowing of their work, I gave my son a bigger response than he expected.

Life is social. Experience is valuable. Reading fiction offers an infinite array of social experiences, equipping readers to better understand and navigate the complex and sometimes precarious social world in which we live.

Being mugged is something I hope never really happens to my son. Working in a soup kitchen and hearing the stories of those who seek warmth and a meal there is something I do hope happens to him, though as yet he’s not open to the idea. So be it. Thanks to fiction, he’s already started checking it out.

And while he’s still pinning his hopes on a future in baseball, I know he’s being prepared for much more.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.