In today's fast-paced world, many of us no longer feel we have the time to read novels. Yet reading fiction has remarkable brain benefits that nonfiction doesn't have. And helps us to understand ourselves and others better.
Understanding what's happening in the minds of others has long been a philosophical quandary, referred to as "the problem of other minds." The premise is that one can never truly understand another person's thoughts, creating an endless realm of speculation and assumption. But novels offer an intriguing solution to this conundrum. This article explores the fascinating connections between literature, empathy, and cognitive neuroscience, showing why novels are more effective than other forms of media in revealing the complexities of the human mind and enhancing brain function.
Novels unlock hidden emotions
Novels serve as gateways into an alternate world where the thoughts and emotions of characters are explicitly presented, eliminating the guesswork. In her book "Transparent Minds," renowned author Dorrit Cohn underscores this extraordinary ability of novels to expose characters' innermost selves. Reading a novel allows an immersive experience akin to reading minds, unmatched by other media forms.
A comparison to movies, a widely embraced form of entertainment, elucidates this unique aspect of novels. Despite filmmakers' use of voice-overs or subtitles to express a character's inner world, the depth that novels offer is incomparable.
While the film industry has significantly influenced our interpretation of human behaviour and emotions, novels persist in their distinct role. They penetrate the depth of human thought and emotion, which often go beyond mere reactions to external events, and explore internal storms with their unique patterns. It is through novels that the complexity of human minds is best captured and understood.
Reading novels enhances brain function, brain connectivity, and mental agility
A study by neuroscientists at Emory University titled "Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain" fortifies this perspective. They discovered that reading a novel enhances brain function, improving brain connectivity and empathy, akin to the strengthening of muscle memory through sports visualization. The research indicates that reading is not only a form of escapism but also an exercise for mental agility.
Modern reading habits, particularly in the digital age, are rapidly evolving. While the internet has become a primary source of information, the sale of fiction continues to outpace nonfiction, highlighting the enduring appeal of novels. The Emory University study promotes the habit of reading while reducing TV exposure, as it is known to hinder the development of theory of mind in children.
Reading novels fosters embodied cognition and empathy
Through an experiment involving the reading of "Pompeii" by Robert Harris, the study also revealed increased brain connectivity, particularly in areas associated with language comprehension and sensation. This suggests that reading helps readers experience the protagonist's journey, thereby fostering embodied cognition and empathy.
To conclude, novels serve as an invaluable tool in understanding the human mind's complexity. They transcend the limitations of other forms of media, offering insights that are typically elusive. Reading a novel enriches cognitive abilities, encourages empathy, and fosters an understanding of others' emotions.
Bergland, C. (July 4, 2014). Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function. Psychology Today. Retrieved August 1, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function
Hoel, E. (July 31, 2023). Why Novels Are a Richer Experience Than Movies. Nautilus. Retrieved August 1, 2023, from https://nautil.us/why-novels-are-a-richer-experience-than-movies-357528/.