This recent study seems to show that reading fiction is strongly correlated with high levels of empathy, social understanding, and awareness. On the other hand, there is no similar connection between social skills and reading nonfiction.This is another example of the difficulty in deducing causation from correlation. The study authors summarize:
Of course, as the authors point out, it is not clear which way the causation goes. It may well be that highly empathetic people tend to read more fiction, not that reading fiction makes you more empathetic. ...
The list of authors is : here. Notice that Bob Woodward, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and Norman Mailer are all on the non-fiction list.
In general, fiction print-exposure positively predicted measures of social ability, while non-fiction print-exposure was a negative predictor. The tendency to become absorbed in a story also predicted empathy scores.I am inclined to think that the prediction goes the other way -- that high-empathy scorers will tend to read a lot of fiction.
I am also skeptical about the methodology. Also on the non-fiction list were: Stephen J. Gould, Thomas Kuhn, Naomi Wolf, Susan Sontag, Erma Bombeck, Michel Foucault, and a lot of others that I haven't heard of. It is an odd list.