As the Canadian psychologist, Keith Oatley, puts it, reading fiction is like, ‘the mind’s flight simulator.’ It’s a way to experience something without actually doing it and Oatley found that when reading, we identify with characters and understand their goals in a way that allows us to improve our social skills and empathy.
“Fiction and stories do a lot of things for us,” agrees William Chopik, a psychologist at the University of Michigan. “They expose us to uncomfortable ideas and provide us with the opportunity to take other people’s perspectives...”.
A Neuroscientist at Princeton has demonstrated this via brain scans; Diana Tamir found that when people read fiction, the part of the brain ‘linked to simulating what other people are thinking’ becomes more active. In fact, the belief that fiction is a key facilitator of improved emotional and behavioural patterns is finding ground to the extent that at the University of California Irvine for instance, medical students are now offered a humanities module, which allows them access to fiction, as part of their training. That is certainly a vote of confidence for the notion that reading is good for the mind.
The obvious literary benefits and the knowledge gained from reading aside, important as they are, we may well be improving our chances of success at work and in our future lives, simply by picking up a book now and again. As the Harvard Business Review explains ‘reading literary fiction is an effective way to enhance the brain’s ability to keep an open mind while processing information.’
Perhaps it’s time to join that book club if you haven’t already.
How Reading Fiction Increases Empathy and Encourages Understanding | Discover Magazine
The Case for Reading Fiction (hbr.org)
Does reading fiction make us better people? - BBC Future
Entering the Business World? Flex Your Empathy Muscle | TalksForTeens