Mar et al. (2006) adapted Keith Stanovich's et al.’s (1995) Author Recognition Test. With this test Stanovich et al. were able to measure how much reading people do, and they found that the amount of people’s reading was significantly related to vocabulary and general knowledge, even after controlling for IQ and level of education. Stanovich's idea behind the original test was that readers recognize the names of authors of books they read, and that the number of such names they recognize gives an extremely good proxy for the amount of reading they do. By including names of fiction writers and nonfiction writers Mar et al., adapted the test to identify people who read predominantly fiction and those who read predominately nonfiction. Fong et al. adapted Stanovich et al.’s test one step further by including names of writers of four separate genres: romantic stories, suspense-thriller stories, domestic stories, and science-fiction/fantasy stories.
In their study, Fong and her colleagues controlled for their readers' traits of personality, gender, age, fluency in English, and the amount of nonfiction that they read. After these variables had been controlled for, that is to say after their effects had been subtracted out, the researchers found that the amount of reading of two of the genres, romance and suspense-thriller stories, significantly predicted people's scores on the Mind in the Eyes test. In addition, there was a positive but not-quite significant relationship between the reading of domestic stories and scores on the Mind in the Eyes test, but a negative relationship between the reading of science-fiction/fantasy and this test.
How do we explain this? It is interesting, I think, that these results suggest that a strong element in romance stories is understanding what kind of person a potential romantic partner might be. Suspense-thriller stories, and domestic fiction also have elements of working out what people are up to. Prototypical science-fiction and fantasy stories, on the other hand, have a different kind of focus. They tend to be about such matters as wondering how life might be different in the future, or how it might be possible to travel faster than the speed of light. It makes sense that people who read stories of this kind are becoming more expert in thinking about and practicing matters that are rather different from interpersonal skills of the kind indicated by the Mind in the Eyes test.
Austen, J. (1813). Pride and prejudice. London: Egerton
Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test Revised version: A study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger's syndrome or high-functioning autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 241-251.
Fong, K., Mullin, J., & Mar, R. (2013). What you read matters: The role of fiction genres in predicting interpersonal sensitivity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, in press.
Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Hirsh, J., dela Paz, J., & Peterson, J. B. (2006). Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 694-712.
Stanovich, K. E., West, R. F., & Harrison, M. R. (1995). Knowledge growth and maintenance across the life span: The role of print exposure. Developmental Psychology, 31, 811-826.
Image: Title page of the 1813 first edition of Pride and Prejudice, public domain.