We all love a good Netflix binge. But watching riveting, emotionally-stirring dramas like Black Mirror or 13 Reasons Why might not actually be enhancing our ability to empathise and relate to others.
A study from the UK has found that people who list reading as their primary source of entertainment are more likely to be personable and empathetic than those who watch TV.
Researchers told the British Psychological Society conference, in Brighton, that fiction fans showed more positive social behaviour.
"The findings support previous evidence that exposure to fiction relates to a range of empathetic abilities,” said study author Rose Turner. Turner is currently a PhD candidate in psychology at Kingston University.
She surveyed 123 volunteers on their preferred form of entertainment: books, plays, or watching TV. The study then tested their interpersonal skills and their 'pro-social' behaviour such as whether they considered other people's feelings; were able to place themselves in a person's shoes and consider things from different points view; and whether they helped people.
Despite kids who always have their nose in a book being perceived as anti-social, the study concluded that people who preferred reading novels were more likely to present positive interpersonal skills and empathise with others. Those who read more romance or drama genres scored the highest for displaying empathy. Comedy-genre lovers were the most 'relatable'.
However, those who preferred to sit in front of the telly were not as empathetic and were more likely to act anti-socially.
The researchers added: "Exposure to fiction relates to a range of empathic abilities. Engaging with fictional prose and comedy, in particular, could be key to enhancing people's empathic abilities."
Just another reason why kids should pick up reading from a young age!
Paediatricians in the US have often recommended that parents read to their children. Researchers in 2015 concluded that reading to your kids improved their literacy and oral language readiness from a young age.
Researchers looked at the brains of 19 three-to-five-year-olds, using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. The Cincinnati Children's Hospital research team scanned the children’s brains while they listened to recordings of a woman reading stories, as well as while they listened to background noise, in order to see how their brains responded when faced with different types of stimulation.
The MRIs revealed that children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with narrative comprehension and visual imagery.