The many advantages of reading have been well-documented. From exposure to a wealth of knowledge, to enhanced language skills, to improved understanding of the world and its many cultures—books can expose a reader to important information that will benefit them for an entire lifetime. This is especially true for children, since books can open up their imagination and take them on a trip of adventures. But did you know that reading can also boost their emotional intelligence? Here are some of the ways in which reading can improve emotional intelligence in readers of any age.
#1 Understand Complex Relationships
Relationships can be complicated, no matter their form. Family, professional, and romantic relationships all have different layers shrouded in various emotions and feelings that people are experiencing. Books, especially literary fiction with its often complex lineup of characters, can help to unravel the many complexities that are involved in such relationships. Reading can bring greater clarity to the mental states and perceptions of others, giving the reader a much deeper understanding of their interactions with others.
#2 Exposure to More Vocabulary Explaining Emotions
Similarly, reading also exposes the reader to new vocabulary that precisely describes the diverse experiences of characters within a story. This in turn, gives the reader more meaning and context to help them connect to broader human experiences that are full of diverse feelings and emotions. Increased vocabulary amounts having descriptors for what people are going through, giving the reader a glimpse into the mind of the character and their way of thinking. These same lessons can be applied to real-world situations.
#3 Encourages Reasoning and Logic
Effective readers read critically and evaluate the contents of the material the author has presented. In this manner, such critical thinking helps to improve the reader’s logic as they apply rationale from the experiences they have read about and relate them to real-world scenarios. In other words, readers want to make sense of the books they read and they do so by comprehending the human experience based on correlations. They compare what they have just read in the pages of their books with similar situations they experience with others.
#4 Improves Social Perception
Reading also improves social perception because it sheds light onto other people’s differences, values and social norms. For example, reading creates a human connection where the reader becomes engrossed in the character’s life experiences—often experiences that are vastly different from their own. When placed in a social context, the reader can refer back to what they learned from their reading and better understand other people’s behaviors and reactions when characters have behaved similarly. This helps the reader improve their own social skills while also evaluating others not matter the social setting.
#5 Increases Empathy
Empathy is at the core of emotional intelligence and there is a strong connection between empathy and reading. This is because reading diverse stories exposes the reader to a breadth of human experience, allowing the reader to essentially place themselves in the shoes of the characters they are reading about. Reading can hone empathy skills by giving the reader a chance to image what it is like to be the character they are discovering within their book. In this manner, reading provides a unique opportunity for the reader to relate to others on a very profound level.
#6 Enhances Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is another important tenet of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is an asset because it helps people make appropriate decisions in social situations. This can help in all areas of life from career, to relationships, to everyday encounters. In short, reading nurtures a sense of self in the reader. This is largely because when readers pay close attention to the different emotions and feelings of characters they tend to evaluate their own values which encourages their own emotional growth, making them more self-aware.
#7 Produces Emotional Responses
Lastly, reading also teaches emotional intelligence because it elicits real emotional responses in the reader. From crying, to laughter, to joy, to anger—reading can stimulate a wide array of emotions, giving the reader an opportunity to recognize these feelings and regulate them in real-world situations. Reading simulates reality and it triggers the same regions of the brain that would be activated in a live scenario. By triggering authentic emotions, reading can help the reader evaluate and understand the myriad emotions they may experience on a daily basis.
The benefits of reading go far beyond making people more academically intelligent. Reading boosts people’s emotional intelligence as well and helps to improve how they interpret emotions—those exhibited by others as well as their own. From developing better relationships, to improved social situations, and empathy reading can foster emotional intelligence in readers, no matter their age. This is the true magic of reading.
CLiF Note: Here are a few more resources we like on the ways reading helps increase empathy in children:
“How Reading Fiction Helps Kids Develop Empathy,” Sonlight Homeschooling Blog, January 2017
“Children and Empathy: Reading to Learn Empathy,” Michigan State University Extension, April 2017
“11 Books That Model Empathy and Compassion for Young Readers,” Brightly, November 2017
Amy Williams is a freelance journalist based in Southern California and the mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyKWilliams1.