benefits · fiction · reading

Why Read Fiction?

tumblr_m3c7kckput1r9mgqro1_500When was the last time you read a book, short story, or a graphic novel? Are your daily reading habits centered around tweets, Facebook updates, or the directions on your instant oatmeal packet? If you’re one of the countless people today who doesn’t make a habit of reading regularly, you’re missing out because reading has a significant number of benefits. Neuroscientists have discovered that reading a novel can improve brain function on a variety of levels which involve:

Reduced Stress

No matter how stressed life can get, once you open the pages of a good book, everything melts away as you become lost in a good story. An entertaining and well-written book or graphic novel can transport you to another world allowing you to relax and your tensions to drain away. We all need time to disengage from the stresses of everyday life in order to function at out peak capacity.

And reading fiction is among the very best ways to get that disengaged rest. The New Yorker reports that:

Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.

Within 6 minutes of silent reading, participants’ heart rates slowed and tension in their muscles eased up to 68%. Psychologists believe reading works so well because the mind’s concentration creates a distraction that eases the body’s stress.

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A Better Memory

When reading, you have to remember many details about characters, plots, sub-plots, and arcs that wind their way through every story. That’s a lot to remember, but brains are wonderful things that can allow you to keep track of what you find interesting or entertaining. Extraordinarily, every new memory you create fashions new synapses (neurological pathways) and strengthens existing ones, which assists in short-term memory recall as well as stabilizing your moods. Pretty cool, huh? This can also help keep you sharp as you age because it reduces mental declination by 32%.16c55bb

Expanded Knowledge

Every time you read you’re memorizing new information that may come in handy one day, especially if you end up on Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The more knowledge you can absorb, the better-equipped you are at taking on any challenge you face.e7f5482b6163524d05fb7b8b30a63fa8

Additionally, here’s a bit of food for thought: should you ever find yourself in dire circumstances, remember that although you might lose everything else—your job, your possessions, your money, even your health—knowledge can never be taken from you.

Increased Vocabulary

This follows along the same line as the above topic: the more you read, the more words you gain exposure to, and will ultimately make their way into your everyday vocabulary. Being clear and well-spoken will benefit your success in any profession, as well as, knowing how to speak to higher-ups with self-confidence (will be a boost to your self-esteem). It can even help in your chosen career, as those who are well-read, well-spoken, and knowledgeable on a variety of topics tend to get promotions faster (and more often) than those with smaller vocabularies and a lack of literature, scientific, and global events comprehension.

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Reading books are also essential for learning new languages, as non-native speakers attain exposure to words used in context, which will enhance their own speaking and writing fluency.

Stronger Analytical Thinking

Have you ever read a thrilling mystery novel, and solved the puzzle yourself before finishing the book or getting to the revelation? If so, you were putting your critical and analytical thinking to work by observing all of the details and sorting them out to determine “whodunnit.”

That same ability to analyze details comes in handy when critiquing the plot to determine whether well-written, the characters were properly developed, if the storyline ran smoothly, etc. This affords you the opportunity to clearly discuss the book with fellow readers, genre fans, family and/or friends because you’ll have a full understanding of the novel (beyond the story, plot, enjoyability, etc.).

Empathy and Improved Relationships

Multiple studies have shown that imagining stories help activate the regions of your brain responsible for better understanding others and seeing the world from a new viewpoint.

When the psychologist Raymond Mar analyzed 86 fMRI studies, he found a substantial overlap in the brain’s network used to understand stories and those used to navigate interactions with other people.

“…In particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions ‘theory of mind.’ Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.”

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Life is complicated. Oftentimes, personal relationships and challenges don’t have the simple resolutions we would prefer. How can we become more accepting of this reality? By using fiction to explore life changes, complicated emotions, and the unknown.

Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, proposed to the New York Times that reading produces a kind of reality simulation that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.”

Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

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