Fiction is a novel way to stimulate the brain, it turns out.
Reading novels, or stories, not only improves our minds, studies show, but gives us a greater chance of understanding the world we live in. And neuroscience is showing us exactly what can happen when one reads fiction.
For teachers, understanding how reading fiction can be a life-changing experience for students is important.
Reading fiction improves brain function
Researchers have found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Interestingly, reading fiction was found to improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports.
Reading for Meaning is a way create independent lifelong learners. It affords teachers the skills necessary to adjust to the new paradigm and implement Common Core Standards. Reading builds in all students the skills used by proficient readers to extract meaning from even the most rigorous texts.
But studies also show that that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.
Neuroscience and literature
Reading great literature, it has long been known, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.
According to Psychology Today, “the changes caused by reading a novel were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the primary sensorimotor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded, or embodied cognition.”
A New York Times article by Annie Murphy Paul titled, “Your Brain on Fiction”, tells us that brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters.
“Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive.”
According to Ms. Paul, the brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.
Why read fiction?
Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. 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.
When we read great literature we learn and in learning we grow in understanding ourselves and the world around us.
Benefits of reading fiction
Reading fiction is valuable to mental growth, which is why it is important for teachers to understand the benefits and pass them on to their students.
A good exercise for teachers is to choose a novel suitable for their class age. While reading it they should observe the effect it is having on them.
While reading important books teachers should think about sensory input through words and/or metaphors, character interactions, motivation, cause and effect and social and cultural experiences not otherwise available to the reader that are expanded upon and clarified. How did it stimulate your mind?
Teachers should see the novel as a vehicle for explaining the complexities of the world and plan strategies to encourage students to experience those objectives.
Courses are available to assist teachers in understanding the impact of literature on the human brain and the benefits of reading fiction, giving teachers the guidance to map out their own strategies.