If you love reading books and hate hearing people telling you to put that book down, now you have science on your side. A new study found that book readers can be more understanding, empathetic, and open-minded compared to TV watchers.
Does Reading Fiction Make You More Empathetic?
The researchers of the study asked 123 participants about their book, TV, and play preferences and included questions about which genres the participants like, from romance and drama to comedy, fiction, and non-fiction. In addition to these questions, the researchers tested the participants’ interpersonal skills, such as their behavior towards others, their ability to understand others, and whether they help other people.
The study found that those who read more books than watched TV were more empathetic, open to different viewpoints, and more sociable. Participants who watched more TV than read books were less friendly and understanding. The researchers noticed differences in the participants’ genre preferences.
“All forms of fiction are not equal,” said the head researcher, Rose Turner. “Associations between empathetic skills, media and genre diverge.” Fiction lovers exhibited positive social behavior, drama and romance readers showed more empathy, and those who read experimental books were open to other points of view. (8)
Turner said that “the findings support previous evidence that exposure to fiction relates to a range of empathetic abilities.” An older study also supports that book readers are more empathetic, particularly those who read fiction. Readers who immersed themselves into a fictional story were emotionally invested in the story and showed more empathy compared to those who read non-fiction. (1)
Downsides Of Watching Too Much TV
Watching too much TV is detrimental not only to your interpersonal skills, but also to your physical health. Unless you combine watching TV with a physical activity such as using the treadmill, sitting for a long time in front of a screen can hurt your body and vision.
Sitting for prolonged periods of time may have negative effects on your metabolism and heart.
A sedentary lifestyle may aggravate any of the five factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome: an excess of fat around your middle, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglyceride level, and low HDL cholesterol level, the “good” cholesterol that cleans your blood cholesterol. (5)
Metabolic syndrome can lead to heart disease. Excessive abdominal fat, one of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, is particularly important for heart disease. One study found that people who lived sedentary lifestyles had a larger waist circumference and a higher risk of cardiovascular heart disease compared to those who were more physically active. (7)
Prolonged sitting may cause your metabolism to dysfunction after a meal and produce high levels of glucose. Physical activity or even standing can reduce the levels of glucose and the insulin that is released as a response to the high levels of glucose in your blood. (2, 3)
Staring at a TV, Smartphone, or eReader screen can cause major eye strain and other health issues. One study found that participants developed sensitivity to bright lights, blurred vision, dry or irritated eyes, as well as headaches and those symptoms increased after 6 hours of using devices with screens per day. (4, 6)
Reading a book on an eReader is also significantly different than reading a physical book. eReaders are connected to poor quality of sleep because the light from the screen suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycle. (9) Electronic reading devices can be useful, practical, and easier to carry, but it would be better to avoid using them before sleep to limit their negative health effects.
Regardless of how you like to entertain yourself, it’s all about finding a healthy balance and managing your time. You can watch TV and read books on a device or a physical copy, but remember to take breaks to avoid prolonged sitting and its negative outcomes. Time your TV watching, take a break from reading when you feel tired, and be as physically active as you can, even if all you do is stand and get yourself a glass of water.
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(1) Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (January 30, 2013) How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. PLoS ONE, 8(1), e55341.
(2) Grace, M. S., Dempsey, P. C., Sethi, P., Mundra, P. A., Mellett, N. A., Weir, J. M., Owen, N., Dunstan. D. W., Meikle, P. J., Kingwell, B. A. (March 13, 2017). Breaking up prolonged sitting alters the postprandial plasma lipidomic profile of adults with Type 2 Diabetes. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
(3) Larsen, R. N., Dempsey, P. C., Dillon, F., Grace, M., Kingwell, B. A., Owen, N., Dunstan, D, W., (March 24, 2017). Does the Type of Activity ‘Break’ from Prolonged Sitting Differentially Impact on Post-Prandial Blood Glucose Reductions? An Exploratory Analysis. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
(4) Maducdoc, M. M., Haider, A., Nalbandian, A., Youm, J. H., Morgan, P. V., Crow, R. W. (April 2017). Visual consequences of electronic reader use: a pilot study. International Journal of Ophthalmology, 37(2), 433-439.
(5) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (June 22, 2016). What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
(6) Porcar, E., Pons, A. M., Lorente, A. (June 18, 2016). Visual and ocular effects from the use of flat-panel displays. International Journal of Ophthalmology, 9(6), 881-5.
(7) Tigbe, W. W., Granat, M. H., Sattar, N., Lean, M. E. J. (May 2017). Time spent in sedentary posture is associated with waist circumference and cardiovascular risk. International Journal of Obesity, 41(5), 689-696.
(8) Turner, R. (2017). Bookworm, Film-buff or Thespian? Investigating the relationship between fictional worlds and real-world social abilities, presented at Kingston University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Postgraduate Research Conference. Kingston, April 2017. Kingston, UK: Kingston University
(9) Yoshimura, M., Kitazawa, M., Maeda, Y., Mimura, M., Tsubota, K., Kishimoto, T. (March 8, 2017). Smartphone viewing distance and sleep: an experimental study utilizing motion capture technology. Nature and Science of Sleep, 9, 59-65.
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