Being able to take another person’s perspective, make mental models of others and understand another’s perspectives and beliefs is a valuable skill. The theory of mind (what psychologists call these skills) ability starts when we are about 4 years old and continues to develop throughout our life. It is important in empathy and in relating to other people.
In the world of work today being able to see what another person is thinking can help you make better decisions. It can be the difference between getting a deal and losing it, or keeping or losing a great employee. It is common knowledge that most people leave managers rather than jobs.
Studies have shown some amazingly simple ways we can improve things in this area. Personally, I used to really shy away from reading novels. Whenever I’d go on holiday I’d take about ten reference or scientific type books with me. I always thought that novels were a bit of a waste of time, reserved for anyone who wanted some escapism, rather than to learn.
Turns out I should be reading more fiction though because people who do are better at both perceiving emotion and correctly interpreting social cues. One study showed that even a brief read of a story can prime people to perform better on social reasoning tests. Overall though reading fiction has been shown to facilitate the development of social skills because it provides experience thinking about others.
When readers have had their brains scanned it was revealed that we internalise what the character is experiencing by mirroring those feelings and actions. It is thought that we put aside our own concerns and plans and adopt those of the character we are reading about.
That work book club is looking like an even better idea now!