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Reading Romance Novels May Have Hidden Benefits

December 1, 2013
ABC News Radio

Romance novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but those who are attracted to reading them may be better at empathy than anyone realized.

Psychologist Katrina Fong and her research team at York University wanted to pursue this theory so they asked 328 students, the vast majority of them women, if they recognized the names of various novelists.

Once that was established, the subjects were asked to guess the emotional states of actors in photographs by just viewing their eyes.

As it happened, the participants who recognized the names of romantic fiction authors did better at selecting the correct emotion than those who were more familiar with writers of other literary genres.

In trying to explain this phenomenon, the York University team wrote, “Romance is a genre of fiction that focuses on interpersonal relationships” so possibly reading these novels “helps to maintain and improve social skills.”

Then again, Fong and the others cautioned that it might just be the other way around, that those with keener interpersonal skills are more drawn to romantic fiction.