Theory of Mind, or mentalizing, is an aspect of cognitive empathy that refers to the ability to understand that others have mental states and perspectives that may be different from one’s own. Previous research has established a link between reading fiction and empathy (e.g., Fong et al., 2013). Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction is associated with higher scores on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task (RMET; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), an ability task measuring Theory of Mind (Mar et al., 2006). A recent study by Tabullo and colleagues (2018) explored this relationship further. In a cross-cultural replication, the authors enlisted a Latin American sample of Spanish-speaking Argentinians to examine associations among fiction exposure, reading habits, trait empathy, and Theory of Mind. Participants self-reported their reading habits and empathy, and completed a series of tasks measuring their exposure to fiction and Theory of Mind ability.
Although past studies found a positive association between exposure to fiction and Theory of Mind, this group found this result replicated only for their male participants. Higher scores for the RMET (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), were associated with higher scores for fiction exposure, but only for males. For women, the opposite was observed. This sex difference has not been previously observed in past studies, and so this finding requires replication and further exploration. Unfortunately, one limitation OF this study is the relatively few male participants in the sample (n = 71; n = 137 females). Future studies should further investigate possible sex differences when examining the relation between reading fiction and Theory of Mind.
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 syndrome or high-functioning autism. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 42(2), 241-251.
Fong, K., Mullin, J. B., & Mar, R. A. (2013). What you read matters: The role of fiction genre in predicting interpersonal sensitivity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(4), 370–376.
Tabullo, A. J., Jimenez, V. A. N., & Garcia, C. S. (2018). Associations between fiction reading, trait empathy, and theory of mind ability. International Journal of Psychology & Psychological Therapy, 18(3), 353-370.
Post by Valeria Hernandez
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