This blog article in the NY Times cites a recent study by social psychologists which found people who read literary fiction are shown to have more empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. Pam Belluck concludes that this will naturally lead people who read literary fiction as opposed to popular fiction to have better social skills. I wouldn’t necessarily make this leap. In my experience most people who read literary fiction are fairly socially withdrawn and awkward interacting with people in real life (myself especially). Whereas people I meet who read popular fiction tend to be more vibrantly social and at ease in crowds. It’s more of a division in personality types I think. Though I agree that literary fiction is more likely to increase your empathy because, as the article says, it literally puts you in someone else’s shoes to see the world from a different perspective. Also, literary books tend to present the world as a more complex nuanced place whereas popular literature tends to present the world from one point of view where people are quite clearly split into good or bad.
By the way, I love Louise Erdrich’s funny reactions to the study. The lady clearly has a good sense of humor.