Leisure Reading and Social Cognition: A Meta-Analysis

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This meta-analysis investigates the extent to which people’s leisure reading may produce better social–cognitive abilities. Researchers have hypothesized that experiences of fiction (more so than nonfiction) will improve readers’ empathy and theory of mind. To capture the size of this effect, we aggregated correlations between measures of lifetime reading habits for both fiction and nonfiction with measures of empathy and theory of mind. Consistent with previous evidence, fiction reading had a larger correlation with the social–cognitive measures compared to nonfiction reading. However, the effects were small in magnitude. Heterogeneity analyses indicated that the effect sizes were consistent across studies. We also examined gender, publication status, and design as moderators. However, none of the moderators reached significance. We suggest that the results of this meta-analysis sanction a shift in research agenda toward understanding causal mechanisms.

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