A new study suggests they do. Unfortunately, we seem to be trending in the wrong direction in our habits:
The number of adults who read literature for pleasure sank below 50 percent for the first time ever in the past 10 years, with the decrease occurring most sharply among college-age adults. And reading may be linked to empathy. In a study published earlier this year psychologist Raymond A. Mar of York University in Toronto and others demonstrated that the number of stories preschoolers read predicts their ability to understand the emotions of others. Mar has also shown that adults who read less fiction report themselves to be less empathic.
As a novelist, I naturally believe this observation to be true. I'd go further and say that writing fiction forces a person to develop their empathic capabilities even further. Then again, many novelists are self-involved jerks, so who knows?
Hat tip: Zoe Pollock.