Does reading a single passage of literary fiction really improve theory of mind? An attempt at replication

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2016 Nov;111(5):e46-e54. doi: 10.1037/pspa0000064. Epub 2016 Sep 19.


[Correction Notice: An Erratum for this article was reported in Vol 111(5) of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (see record 2016-50315-003). In the article, due to an error in stimulus construction, four items (three authors, one foil) were omitted from the ART presented to all participants tested by Research Group 1. These omissions do not undermine the results in the primary analyses, which all included ART and ART Condition (as covariates). Any variation across research groups, including this difference in reading exposure measurement, is accounted for in the multilevel analyses. Therefore, the Table 2 title should appear as Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) Scores by Condition and Overall Unadjusted Means for the Current Study and Kidd and Castano (2013), as Well as the Zero-Order Pearson's Correlations Between RMET and ART Scores Overall and by Condition. The ART data columns should be deleted, and the table note should begin as follows: RMET scores were transformed to correct for skew prior to correlational analyses. The section title above the Discussion section should appear as Comparison of Our RMET Scores to Kidd and Castano Data, with the first two sentences appearing as follows: To determine whether the responses in our sample were similar to what Kidd and Castano (2013) found, we compared our mean performance on the RMET to theirs. Our grand mean (26.28) was significantly higher than theirs (25.18), t(1=, 374) = 3.71, p< .001, d = 0.21. All versions of this article have been corrected.] Fiction simulates the social world and invites us into the minds of characters. This has led various researchers to suggest that reading fiction improves our understanding of others' cognitive and emotional states. Kidd and Castano (2013) received a great deal of attention by providing support for this claim. Their article reported that reading segments of literary fiction (but not popular fiction or nonfiction) immediately and significantly improved performance on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), an advanced theory-of-mind test. Here we report a replication attempt by 3 independent research groups, with 792 participants randomly assigned to 1 of 4 conditions (literary fiction, popular fiction, nonfiction, and no reading). In contrast to Kidd and Castano (2013), we found no significant advantage in RMET scores for literary fiction compared to any of the other conditions. However, as in Kidd and Castano and previous research, the Author Recognition Test, a measure of lifetime exposure to fiction, consistently predicted RMET scores across conditions. We conclude that the most plausible link between reading fiction and theory of mind is either that individuals with strong theory of mind are drawn to fiction and/or that a lifetime of reading gradually strengthens theory of mind, but other variables, such as verbal ability, may also be at play. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Literature*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reading*
  • Social Perception*
  • Theory of Mind*
  • Young Adult