The Impact of Fiction Reading on Social Outcomes: A 4-Week Randomized Controlled Study

David Dodell-Feder, Gloria Liu, Paige Amormino, Elizabeth D. Handley, Diana I. Tamir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Does reading fiction improve our ability to understand one another? Correlational data suggest that lifetime fiction exposure is positively associated with social outcomes. Experimental data suggest that fiction reading may slightly improve social ability, although this conclusion is tenuous. Here, we test fiction’s impact on social outcomes by conducting a study in which adult participants (N = 210) were randomly assigned to engage in no reading for pleasure, or to read fiction or nonfiction for 45 min/day, 5 days/week, for 4 weeks. At the end of the study, participants were assessed on three classes of social outcomes: theory of mind, empathy, and social functioning. Using structural equation modeling, we tested the impact of fiction reading on latent variables representing the aforementioned social outcomes. Fiction readers did not outperform nonfiction readers or participants who abstained from pleasure reading on any social outcome. Nonfiction readers outperformed those who abstained from pleasure reading on the empathy latent variable. We did not observe associations between lifetime fiction exposure and social outcomes. Taken with the study’s limitations, which include a modest sample size, measurement issues, and the possibility that nonstudy media was consumed/produced during the reading period, these data are consistent with the following possibilities regarding fiction’s positive social impact: Such findings may reflect a priming effect, may occur only after prolonged exposure to fiction, and/or may occur for readers who exhibit a particular kind of engagement with the reading. Together, this study provides no new evidence of a beneficial effect of fiction reading on social outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Applied Psychology


  • empathy
  • fiction
  • reading
  • social cognition
  • theory of mind


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