Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction
By Gabe Burgado
They tend to be more empathetic toward others.
The study: A 2013 Emory University study looked at the brains of fiction readers. Researchers compared the brains of people after they read to the brains of people who didn’t read. The brains of the readers — they read Robert Harris’ Pompeii over a nine-day period at night — showed more activity in certain areas than those who didn’t read.
Specifically, researchers found heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. The researchers also found increased connectivity in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself scoring a touchdown while playing football, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling.
It may sound hooey hooey, but it’s true: Fiction readers make great friends as they tend to be more aware of others’ emotions.
“We believe that one critical difference between lit and pop fiction is the extent to which the characters are complex, ambiguous, difficult to get to know, etc. (in other words, human) versus stereotyped, simple,” Castano wrote to Mic.
Literary fiction enhanced participants’ empathy because they had to work harder at fleshing out the characters. The process of trying to understand what those characters are feelings and the motives behind them is the same in our relationships with other people.
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