Monday, March 11, 2013

The benefits of reading fiction

A University of Buffalo study found that when reading fiction, you actually benefit in several ways, partly by improving in the area of "social thinking" (understanding what the world is like for others) and partly by reaping the benefits that come from social belonging. Many of us have had the experience of feeling as if characters in a book were so real they were people we actually know. Now there is a study that confirms this actually happens and that we are changed by these fictional social encounters.

Commenting on this study, Professor Keith Oatley remarks, "If I read fiction, this kind of social thinking is what I get better at. If I read genetics or astronomy, I get more expert at genetics or astronomy. In fiction, also, we are able to understand characters' actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have. And it turns out that psychologically there is a big difference between these two points of view. We usually take the exterior view of others, but that's too limited. It is the first empirical finding, so far as I know, to show a clear psychological effect of reading fiction. It's a result that shows that reading fiction improves understanding of others, and this has a very basic importance in society, not just in the general way making the world a better place by improving interpersonal understanding, but in specific areas such as politics, business, and education."

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