A Good Novel Makes The Brain Smarter

A new educational standard  suggested a reduced focus on fiction in the latter half of primary school.
But it is perhaps not very smart, says David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano from the New School of Social Research.

They have tested what literature does to our capabilities. Now, they concluded that even small snippets of quality literature seems to make us better to interpret other people’;s emotions, and to put ourselves in other people’;s thinking.

But do not think that any kind of reading is good enough. Neither popular literature or factual seemed to do the same trick.

Must think more

The hypothesis of Kidd and Castano was something of quality literature initiate thought processes in the brain.

The characteristics of such texts is that they often put things in a foreign perspective, where the reader can not confirm their expectations. The reader experiences a subjective world, seen through the eyes of other people. The stories have more votes and often is much between the lines.

This forces us to reflect and guess, the researchers wrote in an article in the latest issue of Science.Often it is not the way we expect, and we need to be more flexible in our interpretation to understand what the characters in the book think and feel.

The researchers admit that it is difficult to set clear limits on the texts that have such literary quality. However, typical examples are to be found among the books nominated for prestigious literary awards, such as the U.S. National Book Award.

So it was also from there they took some of the text clips they needed to five different experiments to explore literature’;s influence on the brain.

Amazing capabilities

The other texts were taken from popular fiction and nonfiction. In the various experiments were groups of participants read short texts from three different genres, or nothing.

Afterwards, the researchers tested how well subjects did so in various tasks that measured the ability to guess what others are thinking and feeling, so-called theory of mind.

This ability is very important, the researchers wrote. Understanding others is one of the most astonishing abilities that have evolved in the human species. It enables us to navigate the complicated social conditions in increasingly complex society.

The bad qualities associated with mental illness and problems in the interaction with other people.

Thus, it is of importance when tests showed that even the short clips of quality literature was enough to make participants better to put themselves in other people’;s thoughts and feelings. The other texts had no such effect.

The importance of art

Scientists warn against placing too much results yet. The effect is only measured shortly after the text was read. Although there are indications that the reading of quality literature can provide lasting improvement of the abilities to understand others, we still know too little.