How Reading Stimulates Emotional Intelligence
Studies consistently show that reading enhances emotional intelligence. Here's why.
Lately, there has been a lot of discussion among parents, educators, and within the community that reading is a lost art. We hear people crying that books are dead or that technology is changing how we get our information. Thankfully, however, book sales are rebounding and literature is far from dead. That’s great news, because science has proven that there are many ways that reading impacts our lives and influences brain development.
The benefits of reading range anywhere from relieving stress, to evolving our brains, to developing memory, and helping stimulate emotional intelligence. For parents, this is especially important to note, because empathy and intellectual curiosity was ranked among the five most important skills for success for people living in a digital and global economy. Our kids, who are digital natives, are going to be required to navigate a world that requires them to have emotional intelligence to thrive.
In addition to helping children develop critical thinking and writing skills, research has long been telling us that reading fiction can develop empathy and emotional intelligence. Surprisingly, the actual art of reading isn’t capable of producing this surprising reaction. Children don’t develop emotional understanding by focusing on digraphs, blends, and mechanics. Instead, there is hard evidence that reading literary fiction stimulates emotional intelligence.
Stories allow readers to immerse themselves in the life of another person and see the world through their eyes. This has always been a good way to broaden a child’s outlook, but now we actually have the research and science to say it makes us more empathetic. For example, studies published in 2006 and 2009 uncovered that participants who read literature with strong characters displayed higher levels of empathy and emotional intelligence by being able to “feel” the characters.
The subjects of these studies were better able to understand others by empathizing with characters and viewing the world from their different perspectives. The researchers noted that this correlation persisted even after they looked into the possibility that the increase was due to a coincidence that more empathetic people might have a tendency to read more novels and literature. This was later backed by research in 2010 that received similar results when they studied children and discovered the more stories a child was read led to a better understanding of other people’s intentions in the listener.
In a world that is focusing more and more on logic, reading is a great way for kids to maintain their vibrant imaginations while improving their ability to engage with peers, adults, and society. Reading allows our sons and daughters to live vicariously through the fictional lives of the characters which gives them valuable opportunities to explore new situations, see the world from another person’s vantage point, learn about strong emotions from the safety of home, and even confront their fears. Reading gives our children the ability to know themselves through the stories of others.
Today, research in the area of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology is demonstrating that deep reading allows our kids to immerse themselves in rich sensory details, emotional feelings, and moral complexity. This is a special experience and far removed from just deciphering words and decoding passages. While deep reading doesn’t have to require the typical printed story, being immersed in the written word is an ideal vehicle for engaging the psychological processes needed to gain access to a character’s unique experience and point of view.
This deep reading allows the brain to use language, rich details, allusions, and metaphors to create mental representations. This happens in the same regions of the brain that would be activated if the same scenario was unfolding in real life. We can consider this exercise for the brain, helping our children develop, learn, and adapt to emotional situations and moral dilemmas which increases our real-life abilities to learn empathy.
As parents, we know that emotional intelligence is important for our kids. Afterall, it is essential when it comes to developing, maintaining, and enhancing close friendships and relationships. In a world that is relying more and more on technology and digital communication, this ability to understand others will be a crucial life skill that can evolve and increase over time. Reading stimulates a child’s ability to make sense of his or her emotions in a safe and nonthreatening way, allowing them to manage feelings, express emotions, and handle adversity.
About the Author: Scott Reddler is an active software developer, water sports fan, and a loving and enthusiastic father of three. He uses his knowledge of new technology to understand how social media and apps are changing the parenting landscape. He enjoys taking his children out for boat rides and exploring his lovely state of Florida.