Reading fiction and reading minds in early adolescence: A longitudinal study

Sanne W van der Kleij*, Ian Apperly, Laura R Shapiro, Jessie Ricketts, Rory T Devine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reading fiction is argued to have benefits for our understanding of others' thoughts, feelings and desires, referred to as 'theory of mind'(ToM). We aimed to test this assumption by examining whether children's reading experience is longitudinally associated with later ToM. We examined reading experience and ToM in 236 children between the ages of 11-13 years. Participants were asked to report on their time spent reading both fiction and non-fiction at ages 11 and 13, ToM was measured at age 13. Verbal ability, reading comprehension, and reading motivation were included as control variables in all analyses. Results showed that children's self-reported fiction, but not their non-fiction reading was associated with ToM. Further, the association was concurrent but not longitudinal: fiction reading and ToM at age 13 were associated but fiction reading at age 11 did not predict ToM at age 13. Our findings motivate further research on what types of reading materials might be beneficial, and the level of exposure to fiction that is needed for measurable benefits for later ToM.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105476
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date13 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open
access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


  • Child
  • Non-Fiction
  • Reading
  • Reading experience
  • Humans
  • Adolescence
  • Fiction
  • Emotions
  • Adolescent
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Theory of Mind
  • Motivation
  • Theory of mind


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