Your pleasure reading may be helping you develop marketable skills, without you even realizing that this transformation is happening. That’s because there may be a correlation between reading of fiction, emotional development, and overall insight into human emotions. These skills that make one a better leader, boss, employee, and customer service agent – and more adept at navigating our globally-interconnected social world.
The Value of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence or is a major buzzword in the business community these days, as well as in social media and academia. Companies are emphasizing the emotional IQ of candidates they hire or consider for promotion, for example, because unlike other measures of intelligence, emotional IQ is all about how well you relate to others. Those who have a high emotional intelligence, for instance, are better team players, leaders, negotiators, mentors, and may even be better friends. They have keen insight into what makes people tick, and can use this skill to help solve people problems, resolve conflicts, anticipate the needs of others, or bring diverse groups of people together in an inclusive, collaborative way. It’s no wonder that those who have a developed emotional IQ are in huge demand. One of the main reasons that Fortune 500 companies high executive leadership coaches, for instance, is to have them focus on developing the “soft skills” – those that demand higher Emotional Intelligence – in those who have leadership responsibilities.
Our Emotional Connection to Fiction
There is also research that reveals a potential link between reading novels and raising one’s emotional IQ. Keith Oatley, a professor of cognitive psychology a the University of Toronto, conducted some that has just recently been published. He recommends works of fiction – but especially those that are more character-driven than based on plot. His research suggests that fiction books with complex and interesting characters do more than just entertain us. They also give us a deeper understanding of human nature, raise our emotional IQ, and help us develop valuable qualities such as empathy. Natalie Phillips, a professor who teaches English at Michigan State University, said that the new data from Professor Oatley’s study supports the same kind of data that her own laboratory tests of readers have revealed.
Can Fictional Characters Help Us Develop Character?
Some scholars say that novels are an exceptional vehicle for learning how to make moral and ethical decisions, too, and that they can be a way to practice or exercise these skills. That’s because as we read a work of fiction with highly developed characters, we tend to feel connected to them and we imagine how we would react or behave if we faced the same situations that they do. Some academics have compared it to using a flight simulator to practice how it feels to fly a real jet. But in this case, the novel is the simulator, and it is letting you practice relating to others while making smart choices when faced with complex situations.
Readers also get to observe the impact of choices that characters make. In Romeo and Juliet, for example, Shakespeare presents circumstances that many typical teenagers face. But because of limited information and some hasty decisions based on hunches or what they believed had happened – even if the reality was quite different – Romeo and Juliet’s experience becomes one of the world’s great romantic tragedies. There are also novels like The Great Gatsby where priorities involving whether to pursue meaningful relationships or material ambition come into play. Meanwhile in less serious novels, like those by the award-winning crime writer Elmore Leonard, readers learn that as the saying goes, crime does not pay – even if reading about it does pay off in huge ways in terms of giving readers a roller-coaster ride of entertaining thrills, healthy humor, and surprising twists of fate. The people in the novel can be role models or we can learn from their mistakes to avoid the same pitfalls.
Reading Stimulates Internal Growth
Book characters undergo experiences that researchers say can be internalized by readers, in order to support our everyday cognition or emotional growth. People who first read fiction and then are tested for empathy, for instance, scored higher than those who were tested without first reading. They also showed both physical and neurological changes. Brain scans, for example, showed increased electrical activity in the region of the brain that corresponds with emotion – because the reader was having a genuine emotional response to the fiction they were reading. Other studies have shown that reading strengthens neurological connectivity and encourages the development of synaptic pathways – so that reading may actually have a direct correlation to processing more complex, higher-level thoughts.
While more research needs to be done, and deserves to be funded, the big question that these fascinating research projects raises is one that readers ask themselves all the time. Which eBook should you download and read next? Browse the vast inventory of multilingual fiction titles – and audio books – as well as the nonfiction offerings on free-ebooks.net and see what kinds of intriguing novels you can find to boost your Emotional Intelligence and your overall knowledge.