June 18, 2024 at 12:48 am

New Studies Suggest That Reading Fiction Can Significantly Improve Cognitive Function, Reasoning And Empathy

by Trisha Leigh

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Reading fiction is something I loved as a child, and something that I have come back to over and over as a favorite way to spend time.

There are people who love to read and people who don’t read at all, and honestly, there aren’t very many in between.

According to research, though, there are very real benefits from falling into the “reader” group.

Lena Wimmer, a postdoc researcher and one of the authors of the study, says the team wanted to “lay the groundwork for quantitative studies about fiction’s effect on thinking.”

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They found that reading fiction is better for you than some “serious” thinkers wanted to believe.

“Over the decades, scholars from several disciplines have claimed far-reaching benefits – but also potential disadvantages – of reading fiction for cognition in the real world. I wanted to get an objective, quantitative overview of the relevant empirical evidence in order to decide whether any of these assumptions is supported by empirical studies.”

The researchers conducted two meta-analyses to reach their conclusions.

The first looked into the results of a study that measured cognitive function for people who read various types of fiction. It includes data from 70 studies and more than 11,000 participants. They found that reading fiction had a “statistically significant” positive effect on people’s cognition. The readers also seemed better able to empathize with others.

The second took data from a longitudinal study that correlated lifelong fiction readership with cognitive outcomes ranging from abstract thinking and reasoning skills to the ability to empathize with others. This included 114 studies and more than 30,000 participants and found even more positive correlation between reading fiction and cognitive abilities. This was especially true when it came to verbal skills, reasoning, abstract thinking, and problem-solving.

This dataset also found readers of fiction more able to empathize, though the correlation wasn’t as pronounced.

“The similar trend is that people who read a lot of fiction have better cognitive skills than people who read little or no fiction. These benefits are small in size across various cognitive skills, but of medium size for verbal and general cognitive abilities. Importantly, there is a stronger association between reading fiction and cognitive skills than between reading nonfiction and those skills.”

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They believe their study provides a framework for more research into how different reading habits affect our brains.

For now, you can feel pretty good about picking up whatever sort of novel blows your skirt up.

I mean, if you didn’t already.

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