Reading Fiction Is Good For The Brain (and what’s good for the brain is good for the rest of your body)

MRI of the head, from

It turns out that reading fiction is actually good for you. Not that I didn’t already believe that, but I’ve met plenty of people who don’t read fiction, because they say they only want to read real things. This piece by Annie Murphy Paul in the New York Times discusses some recent research into the imagery of fiction and its effect on the brain.

Paul quotes Dr. Keith Oatley, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto and a novelist (including The Case of Emily V, a mystery that involves Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes). According to Oatley, fiction “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

Paul mentions Oatley and other authors of various studies. When I looked up Oatley I discovered that he has a book from August 2011 on the same subject: Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, which is described as exploring “how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers.”

I find it odd that Paul’s piece failed to mention Oatley’s book. I don’t know what that omission means (most likely nothing), but it bugs me. It distracted me from the making of a simple blog post on an interesting subject, sending me off into myriad speculations, none of which are worth noting in this post.

Here’s a group blog that Oatley participates in: OnFiction: An Online Magazine on the Psychology of Fiction, which I will look at more thoroughly when I get a chance, and I’m curious to read his book.

I hope the findings of Oatley and other researchers will encourage more people to attempt the reading of fiction. It will help your brain.


4 thoughts on “Reading Fiction Is Good For The Brain (and what’s good for the brain is good for the rest of your body)

  1. Wow this is fabulous news! No more feeling guilty about indulging in a “useless” fictional world. In addition to the psychosocial benefits of fiction, I’ve learned so much throughout my life from reading well-researched novels. Jurassic Park taught me about genomic sequencing, Invisible Man taught me about racial disparity in the post civil-rights era, I can’t even begin to list what I’ve learned by reading Robin Cook, Jules Verne, and countless others. Thanks for this post, I love when medical science proves benefits of things I like!

    1. Robert Freeman Wexler

      Hi Anna, thanks for visiting. True, you can pick up some good bits of information from an author’s research…but be careful–writers make a lot of stuff up that sounds factual. I know I do.

  2. Dale Barnard

    Okay, so if I don’t read fiction (unless it’s audio form), what does that imply about my brain? Don’t answer that.

    1. Robert Freeman Wexler

      You’re a special case…. I’d be interested in someone adding listening to fiction to a similar study. It’s entering your brain in a different way–would that cause a different result?

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