Claims about my friends

Robin Hanson will like this one:

The more fiction a person reads, the more empathy they have and the
better they perform on tests of social understanding and awareness.  By
contrast, reading more non-fiction, fact-based books shows the opposite
association.  That’s according to Raymond Mar and colleagues who say their finding could have implications for educating children and adults about understanding others…

If you, like Robin, are fond of signaling theory the causality can run either way.

Bryan Caplan will like this one:

In general, the students and experts believed mental disorders were
less ‘real’ than medical disorders.  For example, most of the
participants agreed that you either have a medical disorder or you
don’t, but that this isn’t true for mental disorders (although a third
of the experts felt it was).  The experts and students also believed
more strongly that medical disorders exist ‘naturally’ in the world,
than do mental disorders.  The familiarity of conditions didn’t make any
difference to the participants’ views.


About the Raymond Mar study:
1. Extremely limited, skewed sample of 94 participants (63 females, 46 Introductory Psychology students).
2. They do not measure reading but fiction and non-fiction author recognition (but with a very popular definition of non-fiction authors such as Michael Moore).
3. Fiction and non fiction author recognition correlates at .84. Readers can identify common authors.
4. The best correlations between author recognition with social ability questionnaires are in the low .20.

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I read too much to have friends.

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So they are saying that the geeks reading the science fiction books at school are more socially able than the non-reading footballers and socialites?

I am sceptical.

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Good comment, jaywalker. IMHO a lot of cocktail-party skills involve being able to talk knowingly about authors, movies, and political situations one knows nothing about. I would bet that empathy and social skills correlate better with recognizing authors you've never read than with actually reading.

To the extent actually reading fiction does correlate with empathy, IMHO it may just be a proxy for IQ or income.

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I find the Mar study personally agreeable because I noticed that when I started spending more time online, and especially when I started blogging and reading a great deal of opinion non-fiction, that I was a less happy person than when reading fiction. I think fiction is necessary to a well-ordered mind.

I didn't realize that the footballers and socialites were immersed in Michael Moore.

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Doesn't the fact that women are the predominant fiction readers, and men the predominant non fiction seem to be important in this discussion? Like that alone could account for the correlation? Since the paper only claims to refer to studies, it's difficult to ascertain what was controlled for.

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Women are more empathetic and read more fiction.

Men are more logical and read more non-fiction.

The other main factor is probably IQ: Higher IQ people read more fiction on average because they read faster, and they are better at thinking about how other people feel because they are better at thinking in general.

See Mike Judge's suppressed dystopian film "Idiocracy" for the lack of empathy of the unintelligent. It's harder to understand where somebody else is coming from if you just aren't that good at understanding anything.

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