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Life is stranger than fiction

Fiction improves empathy

What are you reading?

My fellow IWF member, ElisabethStheeman, recently interviewed Dan McCrum about his investigations into the Wirecard fraud. I was struck by how the real life executives and advisory board members sounded more like fictitious characters. I’m now intrigued to read his book, Money Men.

And as today is the summer solstice I’m also thinking about other books to read for leisure. Particularly as in last week’s episode of Just one thing by Dr Michael Mosely on BBC Radio 4, he extolled the virtues of setting aside 30 minutes a day to read fiction.

He spoke to a neuroscientist and assessed various studies which indicate that reading for leisure, not enforced homework, has many beneficial effects for our mental health and wellbeing. When we are anxious or depressed we focus inward. When we read narrative fiction our focus is turned outward.

By stimulating our imagination, stories help to improve our empathy and sociability. We get insights into other lived experiences and we fill in gaps with our own. The parasocial relationships we build in this way help us to better understand the real world. As we are transported to the sounds, smells and tastes of the characters’ lives, parts our brains light up, as if we too were physically sharing those experiences.

Further an international survey, the Rest Test, found that reading provides the best respite from stress, even more so than going to a spa. Reading social media, newspapers and magazines are not as effective as narrative fiction in reducing the stress hormones of cortisol in our bodies.

So rather than being a waste of time or an unhelpful distraction, reading a book could help your business and bottom line too.

Which books of fiction would you recommend?

Or do you have any favourite poems that stir your emotions and re-energise you?

If you would like to explore coaching as a way to improve your self-awareness, empathy and employee engagement contact me or +44 (0) 7952 068133.

Reading books improve empathy


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