the op-ed “your brain on fiction“ made me want to become the ultimate bookworm.
neuroscience studies have actually shown our brain processes experiences we are reading as if they are happening in real life, and also treats the interactions between fictional characters as if they were real-life social encounters.
evidence of how fiction influences the brain is revealed through brain scans, which have shown areas of our brain other than the language-processing part are also stimulated while reading.
for example, reading words that describe scent, such as “cinnoman” or “lavender” ignites the part of our brain that deals with smell. when actions were described such as kicking a ball, or grasping an object, this stimulated the motor cortex, which coordinates our body’s movements.
metaphors associated with texture, such as “the singer had a velvet voice” and “he had leathery hands” cause the sensory cortex to become active, which is responsible for perceiving texture through touch.
the article explains perfectly why novels can be so impactful, “fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.”
research also suggests that reading fiction can improve our social skills, by helping us empathize more, and seeing things from other people’s perspective. this is because as we read, we are identifying with the characters’ longings and feelings. as the article describes,“Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions “theory of mind.” Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.”
By ANNIE MURPHY PAUL, in the New York Times, SUNDAY REVIEW)