Benefits of reading fiction

Reading is a well-practised norm that is entertained by the millions. As a one-directional reader, my focus for many years has been non-fictional reading on subject matters like productivity and self-improvement. The disadvantage of such approach, I neglected fictional reading which engenders the following:

  1. Simulation of vivid content through descriptive language.
  2. Entice readers with characters and places and transport them in imaginary places.
  3. Mental simulation of emotions.

My last experience of reading fiction was Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. As a 10th grader, I was captivated by the story plot and, the obvious thought of putting the book seemed unnatural. Overtime, I became disengaged from reading fiction because of the idea that reading fiction didn’t provide any useful output. It was just a simple activity to waste time.

So to change the outlook of my thinking, I began to investigate the benefits of reading fiction and here’s what I have found.

Benefits of reading FICTION

Reading fiction has known to improve social cognitive skills in individuals. In this study, researchers identified exercising the default subnetwork involved in theory of mind. The default network – is a network which is known to support our capacity to simulate hypothetical sciences, spaces and mental states.

When participant read literacy passage, it was revealed certain distinction in the subnetwork of the default network. There were two in particular to draw attention:

  1. Medial temporal lobe subnetwork responded to vivid passages
  2. Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex responded to passages with social and abstract content.

This proposed dynamic relationship between neural function and experience is supported by neuroplasticity literature, which has demonstrated that repeated engagement in cognitive processes can lead to positive changes in the neural networks supporting those cognitive processes (Draganski and May, 2008Klingberg, 2010Anguera et al., 2013Lovden et al., 2013Merzenich et al., 2014). Thus, here, repeated engagement in social simulation vis-à-vis fiction reading may lead to beneficial changes in the default network, which may carry concomitant benefits for social ability. 

And, this was further supplemented by (Mar 20042011) who suggested fiction reading engenders simulations of vivid and social content, also recruits the default network. The overlap between reading fiction and simulation is viewed as a point to invoke vivid descriptive language to transport readers to imaginary places and engage readers with characters, actions and mental cues.

Also, in this article, the author highlights that there are two strands of psychological and neurophysiological impact when readers practice fiction reading. This gives rise to different kinds of effect.

Firstly, the persuasive power of fiction (PPOF) – changes the beliefs and cultural encyclopaedia of readers. PPOF is the degree of transportation – to what extent the readers become immersed in the text that they are oblivious to their immediate environment and enter the fictional world. In other words, it reinforces readers to question the facts and causes of events.

Reading stories can work as a powerful means of modifying readers mental encyclopaedia and changing their attitudes; it can even influence their personality traits.

And, secondly, the potential of fictional stories to improve the reader’s cognitive abilities. The improvement in social cognition to understand other human beings, their emotions, intentions and thoughts and actions.

Overall, reading fiction provides a social cognitive advantage that I need to start developing to a greater extent. And, reignite the desire to immerse into the vividly imaginative work of great authors such as J.K. Rowling, Ernest Hemingway, and Kazuo Ishiguro are just a few, to begin with.

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I am a writer and a graduate engineer working in Leicester, UK.

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