mind lit


Image by Karel Jules Hugo Waignein via Wikimedia Commons

Hard to look away, isn’t it?

This adorable little Jane’s portrait, artfully rendered, sends our brains reeling—what’s her story?

The gaudy floral hat and bright face paint belie the wistfulness of her eyes—what’s going on in there?

As it turns out, your interpretation of her facial expression may be linked to the books you read.

Curious? Read on …

A 2013 study, published by researchers from The New School for Social Research in New York City, found that the ability to identify the emotions of others correlates with a reader’s literary choices.


Photo courtesy of the National Media Museum via Wikimedia Commons

“Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” the study’s abstract begins. “Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind.”

The study’s 1,000 participants were divided into two groups: one read literary fiction (like Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife), and the other read popular fiction (think Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl). After reading, all were asked to identify someone’s emotions using facial cues. Those who read literary fiction scored consistently higher by about 10 percent.


“We believe that one critical difference between lit and pop fiction is the extent to which the characters are complex, ambiguous, difficult to get to know, etc. (in other words, human) versus stereotyped, simple,” Emanuele Castano, one of the researchers, explained to Mic.com.

So … having trouble understanding the feelings of your coworkers, or maybe even your spouse?

Try tackling Chekhov in your spare time.


Leave a comment 7 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Or Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which I still don’t think I totally understand!

    • MaryJane says:

      My husband and I put a copy of The Iliad out on the coffee table with the intent of reading it to each other over our morning coffee but we’ve given up. Hubby recently read ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr and liked it. I’m reading it next. Great reviews. How is your kitter kat this morning Winnie? And your three rascals Lisa?

  2. HI ya MaryJane, we are all cold here, daytime temps in the single digits again, like 30 degrees below normal. Frankie the outdoor kitty is a happy camper sleeping on the couch with all 4 feet in the air. Duke and Earl are cuddled in the bedclothes.
    I have soooo many books I want to read but right now it is seed selling season so the reading will have to wait until summertime I am afraid. I still have my children’s copy of the Iliad and the Odyssey , maybe I can crunch that in?

    • MaryJane says:

      The Iliad in your spare time? I think the Duke of Earl would go Frankie on you.

      • The operative word here on reading the Iliad is “children’s edition” .Ahah,so you remember that song? that is their favorite song, I sing it to them all the time, although their actual names are Duke Ellington ( whom my step dad played sax with) and James Earl Jones (who is on my bucket list of people to meet ). Got your cow card today, thanks. A huge packet of clippings will be on their way this week to you .You know, about cows, bees, farming, etc.

  3. Nancy Coughlin says:

    Not sure where I would fall on this spectrum. I’m a very eclectic reader and read across the genres. Just finished a philosophical text on Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese aesthetic of seeing beauty in the imperfect; Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline; Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo; Dante’s Inferno; The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin; The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan; and No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry. I am currently reading Cabin by Lou Ureneck; The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson; The Forbidden Tomb by Chris Kuzneski; Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; and The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker. I am in a couple different book clubs and their reading tastes are quite different.
    I have stacks of too be read books and love re-reading older favorites. Too many books, too little time!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *