Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fiction Fired Brains

Have you considered what reading fiction does for the brain?

Keith Oatley, Ph.D. in his 2010 Psychology Today article  'Why Read Fiction?'  writes "We enter a book, play, or film, in a fictional world of what could happen, we set aside our own immediate concerns...In a narrative world, we can compare our own reactions, thoughts, and feelings, with those of the characters in a story. Thereby we can come to know better both ourselves and others." He concludes that “The central concern for fiction... is to invite readers to think and feel into the simulations they run as they read a story.” This is certainly an aspect of entertainment reading, but it also exercises the brain which is always good.

In 'Face facts: we need fiction,' published in 2013 in The Guardian, author Neil Gaiman agrees. He  states “It's essential that children are encouraged to read and have access to fiction if we are to live in a healthy society.”

Why? Because Gaiman once heard a talk on prisons and discovered prison planners use percentages of illiterate 10 and 11-year-olds in the population to plan how many prison cells will be needed in fifteen years. He feels fiction introduces children to reading, captivates their attention, encourages vocabulary development, lets them think about different situations and predicaments, and develops a pleasure in reading. Reading also develops empathy by allowing the reader to become involved in the viewpoints of different characters.

In another example, Gaiman tells how a Chinese official once him that "The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US… and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.” Scifi and fantasy at the time of their trip had been a no-no in China. The first scifi-fantasy convention was then held in 2007. Interesting; it seems speculative fiction affects the imagination.

Christopher Bergland in his 2014 article 'Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function,' published in Psychology Today, wrote that a recent study at Emory University found becoming involved in fiction "enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function" in the reader. Again, the reader’s empathy was engaged, and their imagination stretched. He goes on to tell how reading fiction improves connectivity, cognition, and comprehension. 

According to neuroscientist Professor Gregory S. Berns, a researcher, mentioned in Bergland’s article, “At a minimum, we can say that reading stories—especially those with strong narrative arcs—reconfigures the brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains."

I don’t believe this applies to children only, but all fiction readers. Therefore, reading novels provides readers more than entertainment and escape, but develops their brains in significant ways.

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