Learning, practicing, and acquiring good social skills is an important process. Good social skills include having the ability to grasp another person’s perspective, to create mental models of others, and to understand that the beliefs and intentions of different people may be unlike our own. These skills are referred to as “theory of mind,” and they are skills that continue to develop throughout life. Children start to acquire these abilities at about the age of four.
Research is finding that reading fiction may be beneficial when learning theory of mind skills. Specific to children, a small research study found that preschoolers who were exposed to more fictional stories and movies than other children performed better when evaluated for skills related to theory of mind.
Interestingly, the test results were better for children who listened to more stories or watched more movies, but they were not better for children who watched a lot of TV. The researchers believe the reason for this is that TV shows do less exploring of topics and themes from a character’s point of view. For example, children watching TV are not challenged to explain a protagonist’s behavior or figure out why a situation did not develop or end as the protagonist expected.
It is still a hypothesis, but the accumulating findings of those doing the research support the practice of reading fiction as one way to facilitate the development of social skills. Reading fiction taps into the acquisition of social skills because it is an experience that requires thinking about other people.