The researchers argue that this meant that readers should have been able to understand the motives of characters and have empathy towards them – that theory of mind – equally well. On the other hand, it should also have meant that the theory of world was significantly easier for the readers of the literary work as it matched their own experiences, while those with the sci-fi text would have had to use it to a greater degree.
But this is not what happened. They found that the science fiction work cut a reader's perception of literary quality, and as participants focused on figuring out the new world, this impacted how they empathized with the characters. But the authors argue that this is down to an implicit bias in readers who expect sci-fi to be of a lower quality and less “literary” than other novels, even if the contents are basically the same.
They do admit, however, that this isn’t necessarily true for all readers, and is far stronger for those who are already prejudiced towards sci-fi. They say that readers with this bias will read a word like “airlock” and make an assumption that the work is not worthy, and thus read poorly, lowering their comprehension of the text. They then report that the work is not as good.
“So, no, SF doesn’t really make you stupid,” study author Chris Gavaler told The Guardian. “It’s more that if you’re stupid enough to be biased against SF you will read SF stupidly.”