Watching good TV makes you more emotionally intelligent, study finds

Respondents were given Mad Men and space documentaries to watch

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The Independent Culture

Don’t ever let anyone tell you fiction isn’t as worthy of your time as non-fiction - it is scientifically proven to teach you about the experience of being human.

In a study published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts last week, the authors claim that watching high-quality drama series can make you more empathic than if you watch documentaries.

100 participants were given either a television drama (Mad Men or The West Wing) or a nonfiction programme (How the Universe Works or Shark Week: Jaws Strikes Back) to watch, and then asked to judge the emotions displayed by 36 pairs of eyes.

Those who watched the fiction scored higher, and the same pattern emerged when the experiment was repeated with The Good Wife and an additional control group.

The news will come as no surprise to TV fans, who know you can often learn as much about being human from The Sopranos as you can from a philosophy essay.

Here’s the abstract from the study, which you can read in full here:

Previous research has shown that reading award-winning literary fiction leads to increases in performance on tests of theory of mind (Kidd & Castano, 2013). Here, we extend this research to another medium, exploring the effect of viewing award-winning TV dramas on subsequent performance on a test of theory of mind ability, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, & Plumb, 2001). In 2 separate studies, participants were randomly assigned to watch either an award-winning TV drama (Mad Men or West Wing for Study 1; The Good Wife or Lost for Study 2) or a TV documentary (Shark Week or How the Universe Works for Study 1; NOVA Colosseum or Through the Wormhole for Study 2). In both studies, participants who viewed a TV drama performed significantly higher on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test than did those who viewed a documentary. These results suggest that film narratives, as well as written narratives, may facilitate the understanding of others’ minds.