Literary Fiction Increases
Emotional Intelligence
Findings and explanations
What you should know and be able to
do at the end of this lesson:
• Define: emotional intelligence, empathy,
literary fiction.
• Distinguish between literary fiction and
popular fiction.
• Explain the link between emotional
intelligence and literary fiction.
• Self assess how to be more empathetic.
• Describe how lack of empathy may explain
Consider the difference
“It has made me better loving you... it
has made me wiser, and easier, and
brighter. I used to want a great many
things before, and to be angry that I
did not have them. Theoretically, I
was satisfied. I flattered myself that I
had limited my wants. But I was
subject to irritation; I used to have
morbid sterile hateful fits of hunger,
of desire. Now I really am satisfied,
because I can’t think of anything
better. It’s just as when one has been
trying to spell out a book in the
twilight, and suddenly the lamp
comes in. I had been putting out my
eyes over the book of life, and finding
nothing to reward me for my pains;
but now that I can read it properly I
see that it’s a delightful story.”
― Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
• “He picked up the wrench and
broke the guy’s wrist with it, one,
and then the other wrist, two,
and turned back and did the
same to the guy who had held
the hammer, three, four. The two
men were somebody’s weapons,
consciously deployed, and no
soldier left an enemy’s
abandoned ordnance on the field
in working order.
The doctor’s wife was watching
from the cabin door, all kinds of
terror in her face.
"What?" Reacher asked her.”
― Lee Child, Worth Dying For
• Literary fiction – serious fiction writing that
rejects easy explanations, focuses on the
characters rather than the plot.
• Emotional intelligence – the ability to
interpret and respond to those different from
Readerly (literary) vs. Writerly (popular)
• Popular (writerly) = genre fiction like
adventure, romance and thrillers, where the
author dictates your experience as a reader.
• Literary (readerly) fiction lets you go into a
new environment and you have to find your
own way.
Emotional intelligence and success
Peter Salovey, a psychology professor at Yale,
looked at the correlations between emotional
intelligence and salary and found that people
rated highest by their peers in emotional
intelligence received the biggest raises and
were promoted most frequently.
The study: (Catano & Kidd, 2013).
• 3 groups, each assigned to read a different
literary genre: literary fiction, popular fiction,
• Each group was then tested for emotional
intelligence (4 different tests).
• The group that read literary fiction
consistently scored higher on tests of
emotional intelligence than all other groups.
Examples of tests: Reading the mind in
the eyes
Explaining the results
Reading sensitive and lengthy explorations of people’s
lives, that kind of fiction is literally putting yourself into
another’s person’s position – lives that could be more
difficult, more complex, more than what you might be
used to in popular fiction.
In literary fiction there is no single, overarching authorial
voice. Each character presents a different version of
reality, and they aren’t necessary reliable. You have to
participate as reader in this dialectic, which is something
you have to do in real life.
- Albert Wendland, Professor, Seton Hill University
By forcing you to think, empathize, and
assume instead of handing you prototype
characters whose actions and personalities
can be squarely understood, literary fiction is
literally making you a more caring and
emotionally intelligent person.
-Zach Schonfeld, The Atlantic
Are you empathetic?
Answer yes or no to the following:
• I often think about other’s feelings.
• I don’t make fun of other people because I can
imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes.
• I listen to others about what they are going
• I try to understand other’s points of view.
• I am aware that not everyone acts the same way I
Empathy and evil
• NPR: could a lack of empathy explain cruelty?
After listening to the story, taking notes, and
reviewing with your elbow partners, discuss
how this story is connected to reading literary

Literary Fiction Increases Emotional Intelligence