Understanding Others: The Benefits of Romance Novels

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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,

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,

David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind”, Science, 842:6165 (2013),

A.C. Rose, “Why Erotic Romance Books Are Good for You,” The Three Tomatoes, 28 April 2015,


21 thoughts on “Understanding Others: The Benefits of Romance Novels

  1. I like books with romance as a subplot, but I don’t seek out novels that are in the genre. My grandmother used to read Harlequin romance novels, and though I’m sure they’ve come a long way since then (and I love that she was a prolific reader, no matter what she read), I admit to being pretty put off by anything labeled romance.
    Do you think there is a difference between romance as a genre and love stories? This is a discussion I have often with my reading friends. Because I’ve read several Nicholas Sparks books and enjoyed them, but I don’t consider them romance (and he doesn’t either). And I love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, but I don’t consider those romance either (nor does she).
    I’d be open to reading something not like my grandma’s Harlequin romance novels, I just would really know where to start.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have to confess that I’m not actually a huge fan of romance novels either! I just always feel the urge to defend them because I think that part of the reason a lot of pop culture dismisses them is because they are seen as purely for women. I should keep a look out for recommendations as well so that I can become better acquainted with the genre.


  2. Great post! As a reader or both Romance and YA, I always argue that entertainment is a huge factor for reading enjoyment. Obviously these genres are money-makers for publishers so I think there is a large group of people who find enjoyment from these genres.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. The blurring of genre lines is a major point of contention for many readers. A lot of consumers would like the category YA to be better identified by publishers. Many feel the content is too mature for actual teens. A lot of people are angry that this genre has lost literary value. It’s a topic I find extremely interesting. “New Adult” is a term I’ve heard to better identify some books that blur the lines of YA.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve certainly heard arguments for both sides: they give people unrealistic expectations vs the allow people to explore what they want from love. I tend to fall more on the positive side. (Though reading Harry Potter did give me unrealistic expectations about the friendliness of owls, so who knows?)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting thoughts on the genre of romance. I stay away from them like they are the plague. I find them rather dull and usually not very well written. BUT, if a romance develops around the main plot that is fine, and usually appreciated. And, of course a literary romance (Anna Karenina) or a Gothic romance (Rebecca) knocks my socks off. I guess I love love stories but not romance stories. I sound like a book snob but I’m a girl from Queens, NY who did not grow up with a books in my home, so I don’t think I am.

    So dear blogger friend, what is your favorite romance novel? Maybe I’ll give it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. …Now is the time when I sheepishly admit that I don’t have a favorite romance novel. I love reading about love though, so maybe I have a similar relationship to romance novels that you do. Especially since now that you’ve asked, I am at a loss. Perhaps Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘The Small Rain’? Though that isn’t really a romance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m with you – it isn’t a genre I read all that much these days. But I used to read them endlessly when a lot younger and I was feeling my way with my own relationships. Like you, I dislike it when a genre is sneered at just for being… that genre. Having written science fiction for longer than I care to think, I’ve often been at the wrong end of that dynamic. And today I just finished one of the loveliest, most haunting love stories I’ve read in a very long time… Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    Liked by 1 person

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