4 SURPRISING COGNITIVE BENEFITS OF READING FICTION

Who still reads literary fiction nowadays? I do and I consider myself a part of the ever declining percentage of fiction readers in 2015.

In a modern world flooded with tech goodies and advices on how to build a startup, a lot of people think that reading fiction is a huge waste of time. Some readers would even prefer non-fiction books that they believe can enrich their intellectual capacity. Well, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. I totally understand how practical people often shun fiction.

However, recent studies have shown that those who constantly spend hours absorbing someone’s flight of imagination scored significantly better than those who read factual literature. The tests were used to measure empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence.

In my case, I read not only because I want to immerse myself in another person’s world, but I also want to learn how a writer with great calibre writes. While I don’t really call my love for literary fiction as an addiction, I just can’t seem to trade a novel with a fancy outfit. It turns out I’m making the right choice.

Here are some cognitive benefits you can reap by reading other people’s figment of imagination.

ENHANCES SOCIAL PERCEPTION AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

A study published in the journal Science concluded that people who read literary fiction, as opposed to pop fiction, performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence- skills that are greatly beneficial when trying to gauge someone’s thinking or body language.

The reason, as researches say, is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination. It can generate immediate effects in terms of how we understand other’s mental states. It has more to do with the “theory of mind”, which is a term for a person’s ability to accumulate exact insight into the motivations and emotions of others.

IMPROVES YOUR EMPATHY

Regardless of the studies conducted, most of us would probably agree that this effect from reading is true. After all, when we read fiction, we are placing ourselves in the shoes of other people. Nonetheless, our assumptions were proven right and this is really not new to us.

A 2009 study by Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley showed that the participants who had a lifetime exposure to fiction “have better abilities of empathy and theory of mind” than their non-fiction counterparts. The study further proved that empathetic individuals tend to read a lot of fiction.

Sensitive and lengthy explorations of complex lives can lead to more empathy and understanding of other lives. Research has also shown that fiction can help change societal values; it molds us as we drop our intellectual guard and absorb ourselves in a story.

ALLOWS GREATER CREATIVITY

Fictional literature offers someone’s creativity to be enjoyed. It also makes an individual more comfortable with ambiguity. This allows for a higher level of thinking and creativity. Also, another benefit of reading fiction is that it can take you anywhere and it doesn’t really follow a set of rules existing in the real world. The author’s imagination is the only limit to where the story can go. Isn’t it amazing that you or the author can create something out of nothing?

Reading fiction allows you to imagine a different plane of existence. You get your mind to picture out the sceneries exquisitely described in the book, or the sound, or the emotions that powerfully engulfed the characters. You get to experience some things that the real world doesn’t allow for us to experience, like flying or travelling light years away.

We also get to choose the closure of some stories that don’t have clear resolutions, which can either be a frustration or a delight in our part. Sometimes we let the ending as what it is, like we don’t really have the need to close it and instead leave it in ambiguity.

HELPS EXPLORE ABSTRACT HUMAN EXPERIENCES

Some of us only have a superficial understanding of the abstract human experiences and philosophical concepts, such as love, hate, goodness, and evil. By reading fiction, we get to share similar experiences, cultures, and perspectives with other people around the globe at a meaningful level.

Great authors have the power to probe the human condition by weaving extraordinary stories that tap into the soul of human experience. Readers are always led to believe into something that doesn’t even exist or haven’t had happened. We gain the chance to ponder on issues that may potentially disrupt societies- take for example To Kill a Mockingbird or 1984.

The stories are may be invented, but they sometimes appear truer than non-fiction. We can identify with the experiences of the characters as we take time to reflect and associate the story with our lives. We are more inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can give meaning to our lives.

Although reading fiction doesn’t always have extraordinary benefits, its existence enables us to expand our views of the world and exposes us to realms, people, and ideas that are new to us. However, the cognitive benefits of reading shouldn’t be made as your primary reason to start reading fiction- although it helps to motivate you anyway. Read fiction because you want to develop your imagination, support the long-standing art of storytelling, and welcome the lives of others into yours.

Nikkah Lubanga- Sanchez
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Nikkah Lubanga- Sanchez

Blogger at Chic Prose
A writer by day, reader, diaper-changer, monster slayer at night. She's the wife of a rock star wedding photographer and the mother of Prym, the unicorn rider. She loathes writing in the third person and terribly misses the taste of coffee in her mouth.
Nikkah Lubanga- Sanchez
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A writer by day, reader, diaper-changer, monster slayer at night. She's the wife of a rock star wedding photographer and the mother of Prym, the unicorn rider. She loathes writing in the third person and terribly misses the taste of coffee in her mouth.
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