Researchers describe “theory of mind” as the ability to recognize mental states in others and understand that others have perspectives and desires that are different from one’s own. When classroom assignments develop students’ social emotional skills, they include fostering an ability to regulate one’s own emotions, often in an attempt to communicate or otherwise form relationships with others.
The term theory of mind, from cognitive science, and the concept of social-emotional skill-building, now very much in vogue in U.S. classrooms, are connected. And ongoing research indicates students might be able to improve their theory of mind abilities by reading fiction.
A 2013 study by Harvard University researchers and Joseph Coulson, president of the Great Books Foundation, found study participants who immersed themselves in the mental life of fictional characters performed better on theory of mind tasks. While researchers stopped short of claiming causation, they theorized about how reading fiction could improve such ability.