New Evidence: Reading Literary Fiction Expands Your Emotional Capacities

By Douglas LaBier Business psychologist, psychotherapist & writer; director, Center for Progressive Development


In a previous essay I argued that reading serious literature – but not popular fiction – helps your “evolve” and deepen your self-awareness and emotional capacities; and I cited some research that provided evidence of just that. Now, a new study both underscores and adds to those findings and observations.

In my earlier article I wrote, “Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life? And, related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on.”

Related to that, I cited research reported in the New York Times: That reading serious fiction has a demonstrable impact on increasing empathy, social awareness and emotional sensitivity. The study found not only that reading serious fiction increased reader’s emotional awareness and empathy, but that pop fiction did not have the same effect. In my view, those findings illustrate an essential part of becoming more fully human.

And now, a new study has found that reading literary fiction appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. This study found that participants who recognized and were familiar with authors of literary fiction tended to perform better on an emotional recognition test. This association held even after statistically accounting for the influence of other factors that might be connected to both emotion skills and reading more literary fiction, such as past educational attainment, gender and age.

The method of the study is described in this report from the British Psychological Society, and was published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics

The authors then conducted a second study involving over 300 more participants. It also included a measure of participants’ self-reported empathy levels. This was to check that it’s not simply that people with more empathy are more attracted to literary fiction and also tend to do better at the emotion recognition test. Again, participants who recognized more literary fiction authors also tended to perform better on the emotion test. Moreover, this association remained even after controlling for the influence of differences in participants’ empathy levels.

The authors say they believe the apparent link between reading more literary fiction and better emotion recognition skills emerges because “the implied (rather than explicit) socio-cognitive complexity, or roundness of characters, in literary fiction prompts readers to make, adjust, and consider multiple interpretations of characters’ mental states.”

So – my suggestion is to find a good novel or short story by a writer of serious fiction, delve in, and let yourself grow! Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., writes the blog, Progressive Impact and is director of the Center for Progressive Development. He writes about psychological healthy lives in today’s society. For more about him on The Huffington Post, click here.

Measurement of Advertising Effectiveness

by Donna L. Roberts, PhD

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In the realm of consumer behavior research, a successful advertisement must accomplish four basic tasks: 1) Exposure – the consumer must come in contact with the ad message; 2) Attention – the consumer must have thoughtful awareness and consideration of the content; 3) Interpretation – the ad must be accurately understood; and 4) Memory – the ad must be retained in memory in a manner that will allow retrieval under the proper circumstances (Hawkins & Motherbaugh, 2009).  Following this model, advertising has a long history of quantifying effectiveness in relation to memory of a specific ad, advertising campaign, or advertised brand (Clark, 1990; McDaniel & Gates, 1999).  Various widely accepted theories – including Day-After Recall, the Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action (AIDA) and Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results (DAGMAR) models – are based on the fundamental argument that an ad’s memorability (i.e., its ability to sufficiently intrude into a consumer’s consciousness) is measured by degree of recognition (Brierley, 2009; McDaniel & Gates, 1999).

Specifically, the majority of the advertisement-testing measures are based on the assumption that when consumers make purchase decisions they attempt to recall advertising for brands in the relevant category, as well as other brand knowledge.  The extent to which this search for advertising information is successful is thought to depend on how well advertising messages have been attended to and learned.  Thus, the measure most often used to assess advertising effectiveness is verbatim recall of the message content.  This measure is referred to as an explicit measure of memory because it reflects the extent to which people retrieve the content of an explicit message (Brierly, 2009; Lindquist & Sirgy, 2008; McDaniel & Gates, 1999).  While there is little dispute that familiarity with the advertising content is a useful indicator of the extent to which the message has been learned, interpreting the impact of advertising – i.e., the subsequent and/or corresponding purchase decision – from a measure of explicit ad recognition can be more complex and problematic (Arens, Weigold & Arens, 2011; McDaniel & Gates, 1999; Young & King, 2008).



Arens, W., Weigold, M., & Arens, C. (2011). Contemporary advertising. (13th ed.). Hightstown, NJ: McGraw-Hill/Irwin

Brierley, S. (2009). The advertising handbook. New York: Routledge.

Clark, E. (1990). The want makers. New York: Viking.

Hawkins, D., & Mothersbaugh, D. (2009). Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy, (11th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Lindquist, J. D., & Sirgy, M. J. (2008). Shopper, buyer and consumer behavior: Theory, marketing applications and public policy implications. (4th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Atomic Dog Publishing.

McDaniel, C., & Gates, R. (1999). Contemporary marketing research (4th ed.). Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing.

Young, C. E., & King, P. (2008). The advertising research handbook, (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Ad Essentials.



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