Just as some readers turn up their noses at young adult fiction, many sneer at romance novels. But these books aren’t simply trashy bodice rippers filled with swooning and ridiculously attractive heroes. They may also increase self-reflection and empathy in readers. (There is often still swooning though. Lots and lots of swooning.)
Romance novels can help readers explore their own desires and become more confident in themselves. Psychologist Alexis Conason asserts that romances can “encourage fantasy…in a safe way,” and Clinical Psychologist Carl G. Hindy agrees that they can be “a benefit to relationships. Or they can be a fulfillment in themselves.”
There is also a correlation between people who read romance novels and people who exhibit signs of higher emotional intelligence. Psychologist Katrina Fong released a study on how the type of fiction a person reads predicts interpersonal sensitivity. Fong and her fellow researches found that people who read romance novels rather than sci-fi, fantasy, or suspense could more successfully recognize facial expressions and exhibited higher signs of openness than other readers. Of course it remains unclear whether these individuals were always more sensitive to emotions or whether romance novels honed those skills. Fong muses that “it may be that the emotional experiences evoked by romance novels lead to rumination on past relationship experiences,” which could result in higher levels of empathy in the reader. .
Fong’s study reflects the long established idea that reading and engaging with the arts influences an individual’s Theory of the Mind, which is the ability to understand that “other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires.” Readers, researchers agree, understand other people better than those who do not read and are more open for there to be multiple meanings to an event.
Romance novels, it seems, may have more benefits than many people would think. Regardless of the how popular culture treats love stories, if they are books that interest you, embrace reading them! You may walk away with a better understanding of yourself and your world.
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J. Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, Harvard University Press, 1986.
Eihpossophie, “Svenska: Tovat hjärta på is”, 3 March 2013, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hj%C3%A4rta_p%C3%A5_is_1.JPG
Katrina Fong, Justin B. Mullin, and Raymond A. Mar, “What You Read Matters: The Role of Fiction Genre in Predicting Interpersonal Sensitivity,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7.4 (2013): 370-376, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0034084.
David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind”, Science, 842:6165 (2013), http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377.
A.C. Rose, “Why Erotic Romance Books Are Good for You,” The Three Tomatoes, 28 April 2015, http://thethreetomatoes.com/why-erotic-romance-books-are-good-for-you.