Why Reading Fiction is More Important Than You Think
When we read fiction especially, we create new pathways in our brains. Reading 30 pages of fiction every night gets the pathways thicker and thicker. Our brain needs a workout just like our body.
If you were told that there was one simple thing you could do that would enhance your imagination, improve your memory, strengthen your personal relationships, and make you a nicer person, you might be skeptical. You would be even more dubious if you were told it cost nothing, and you could probably do it already.
What if I told you that the answer is reading, and I'm not talking about the kind of reading you do for education, administration, or daily survival. Instead, I'm referring to reading fiction, stories, and narratives that take you inside another person's head, letting you experience their emotions and actions from their perspective.
Many people consider reading fiction pleasurable, but some dismiss it as a waste of time. This perspective dates back to the old-fashioned notion that if you must read, read something useful. However, brain sciences research reveals that fiction is useful in ways we may have never suspected before. In fact, it is more vital than any other form of reading.
David Kidd and Emanuele Castano, two New York psychologists, conducted a series of experiments in 2013 that involved asking participants to read different types of books, including non-fiction and fiction. They then showed them pictures of people with strong facial expressions and asked them to infer what was going on inside their heads.
This test, called Theory of Mind, revealed that people who read fiction that allowed them to understand characters' perspectives had a better grasp of the emotions and thoughts of others.
Theory of Mind is a critical skill that allows us to see things from another person's perspective by interpreting their movements and expressions. It enables us to imagine what it's like to be in a different situation or place, which expands our horizons and boosts our imagination.
People who lack this skill have limited imaginations and struggle to form meaningful relationships with others. Reading fiction helps develop this skill, which leads to a more fulfilled and richer life. You don't have to go through academic papers to witness this effect; it is something we all experience.
A few years ago, a reading group was formed for people with different types of mental issues. Many participants had severe depression or anxiety and had come together to read books. At one of the meetings, they were discussing "Wuthering Heights," and when they reached the point where Kathy, the protagonist, had to choose between Linton and Heathcliff, the group members were engrossed in the discussion. They noted how they wanted to experience the same emotions Kathy was feeling and how reading fiction had positively impacted their lives.
It is clear that reading fiction is not just a pleasurable activity but has many benefits that people may have overlooked. It enhances our ability to empathize with others, makes us better at reading emotions, and improves our imagination.
It is a tool that helps us live more fulfilling lives and build meaningful relationships with others. So, the next time you're reading a book, don't think of it as a waste of time; instead, think of it as an investment in your personal growth and development.
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