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Monday, January 16, 2012

Is It Fiction or is it Emotional Perception and Social Cognition?

Gosh but the news for what seems like forever has been glum glum glum! Between the global economy, upcoming elections and extreme weather, not to mention cruise ships too close to shore turning over and dire predictions for everybody -- why does anyone in his or her right mind watch the news or pick up a newspaper?

So it was a special treat for me yesterday to find an article which truly interested me! It is to be found several pages within the Sunday Times -- on page 11. It's a pity I can't link you all to the article, entitled Be Careful What You Curl Up with by James Gillespie. It refers to an article by a British cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto who has discovered that
the apparently solitary act of curling up with a book is, in fact, an exercise in human interaction.
"It can hone your social brain, so that when you put your book down you may be better prepared for comeraderie, collaboration, even love," Oatley says in the magazine Scientific American Mind. 
What made this article so interesting to  me was that the books referred to in his study were works of fiction not of fact:
"The defining characteristic of fiction is not that it is made up but that it is about human beings and their intentions and interactions," Oatley said. "Reading fiction trains people in this domain just as non-fiction books about say genetics or history builds expertise in those subject areas." 
Brain scans show that a reader internalises what a fictional character experiences by mirroring those feelings and actions themselves.
Thus, when a person reads about something the protagonist did, the reader's brain responds as if they were performing the same action themselves. Over time, their personalities can be subtly changed by the nature of their reading material.
However, those who hope that a quick canter through Dick Francis's oeuvre or the collected works of Jeffrey Archer will make them a better person should think again. Artistry in writing is vital to encouraging change in the reader. "Our most recent experiment found that the more artistic the piece, the more people changed," Oatley said. 
Isn't it a shame that The Times Online insists on having only subscribers who pay! Anyway, I went to the magazine Scientific American Mind's website and bought an online copy of the issue! It's a very interesting and absorbing article and as a lover of fiction, I heartily agree with what he has to say!

29 comments:

  1. Dear Broad,
    Your posting information made me so happy today. I have a friend of many years who doesn't read fiction. She's a poet and a wonderfully compassionate and deep person but she simply doesn't like fiction.

    Years ago she asked me why I read fiction so avidly and I replied, "It helps make me human. Much of who I am today is because of the fiction I've read." She just shook her head. So I'm grateful that this deep instinct of mine has some proof behind it! Wowie!

    Peace.

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    1. "Wowie" is right! Happy to make you happy...

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  2. Fascinating, Broad, and it confirms me in my lifelong belief that reading fiction is deeply worthwhile and not the waste of time my exasperated mother often said it was, when she tried to drag me away from the book I was engrossed in.

    I want my novels always to be well-written, but not necessarily highly literary. However, given my fondness for detective fiction, I do hope it's the actions of the detective rather than the criminal that rubs off on me. :-)

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    1. Yes, as a lover of detective fiction and good Scandinavian stuff in particular, I too hope it's the detective and not the villain rubbing off on me too!

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  3. Besides everything I need to read for my job I don't really read any fiction during term time.

    I can definitely say that I feel more human during holiday times :o))

    I'll try and get hold of the article as the findings look interesting. I'm sure I can use it as a teaching point as I try to encourage my class to read for both pleasure and to improve their skills.

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    1. Isn't it bliss to be able to indulge in whatever reading takes your fancy -- for me an important aspect of any holiday worth its salt!

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  4. Hah! I knew it ;-) there is reason behind my lifelong addiction to [good] fiction.
    Like Perpetua; my mother too bemoaned my fondness. You could have fired off a cannon when I was fathoms deep in Georgette Heyer's historical fiction and I would never have noticed! Antoinette

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  5. I intend to check out this article. I enjoy reading fiction more than nonfiction.

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  6. Hello:
    This is indeed fascinating reading. It has certainly made us consider why some of our acquaintances seem to have little if any imagination whereas others have a surplus. There could be much truth in this.

    We always like the way in which, within a book, one can experience and explore situations that one may never encounter in real life.

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    1. How true -- And to think of it as a valid experience that can impinge on our own personalities is riveting stuff to me.

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  7. Wow, I've always hoped that the fiction I share with my students would somehow lead them to good, honest, interesting lives. I hope reading aloud to them helps too.
    Thanks for the encouraging post.

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    1. You are very welcome, indeed. An thank you for dropping by and commenting...

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  8. A very enjoyable and thought-provoking post, Broad! There's nothing like the power of fiction to transport one to different worlds and times!

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    1. Yes, and it works wonders during the long often gloomy British winters!

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  9. G'day Broad. Now I know why I love fiction books so much. I have been an avid reader of them since a teenager. I love nothing more than to curl up with a good book, doesn't matter where I am. Great post Broad. Take care. Liz...

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    1. Yes, now reading fiction need no longer be a guilty pastime!

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  10. And may I add my 'ditto's' to Liz's comment. A good tale told well can transport me for hours...and isn't that where we really learned to write? Great post Ms. Broad, aloha.

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    1. Aloha, Astrid! I could do with some of your Hawaiian sunshine right now!

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  11. Dear Broad,
    I knew that when I was 10 years old.
    I regularly became every character in every book I ever read - and I read a lot - and more than once the whole class at school laughed at me when I turned up in the guise of a fictional persona.

    It still happens, but nowadays I keep it to myself.

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    1. Friko, I definitely think you should let us experience you when in the guise of fictional persona -- with photos of course! In fact, you've just given me an idea for a post about an old friend in the 60's who became the head of the mafia for a weekend when a fictional character took hold of her persona -- and took us all with her!!

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  12. I've included an e-mail comment from Jenny Woolf here:

    Hello there
    Just wanted to say that Blogger isn't allowing me to comment on your blog - it doesn't show a word verification button so after writing my comment I was left stranded!! I wanted to say though that I thought your post was interesting. I feel we don't yet know much about how people are influenced by what they see and hear and read - it's so complicated and this kind of study helps to break down the complexity of it.

    And it's a pity that the Times has this paywall. I keep meaning to look into whether that has worked in terms of making them more money than having all content online for free. It certainly means that what they say has less global influence, but it might make them more cash!

    Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog, also - appreciate it! Best wishes, Jenny Woolf.

    My Reply:


    Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for taking the time to email me. I haven't had this problem before and wonder if the answer could be this: I've noticed in the past few days that when the word verification comes up I can't see the letters to plug in. If you look to the right you may see a scrolling arrow to the right. Blogger has now put word verification in a scrolling box -- it's quite an annoying feature and one that has just come into play. Let me know if this is the problem and if not I will see if I can figure out some other possibilities.
    Best regards,

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    1. You've got the right answer. It's all there... just in a different place.

      BTW - what the story on folks who like reading just about anything?

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  13. Two observations: It's a good thing I write very little fiction, and those few pieces I have written should probably be pulled from distribution immediately for the good of all mankind.

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  14. Hi dear one,
    I landed in your wonderful blog which I follow now. I hope I am Welcome Aboard...
    I am a Christian American mother and a grandmother of 3 children.
    My family live in New York.
    I am a poet, freelance writer, artist, lyricist, dreamer, lover of mother nature, animals, music, fine arts, and all God's creation. I sing too whenever I can...
    I've got some friends in England as well.
    It must be really gorgeous there.
    I love English folks too!!
    God bless you, sweetheart!!
    All the best,
    Poet Starry Dawn.

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  15. That was a very interesting post with great information. I have been reading since childhood and can never go to bed unless I have been reading some, even if it is early morning. I read fictions but also travel literature, history, biographies, and so forth. I really enjoy British mysteries as well. I never feel alone when I have a book with me and when I cannot travel to faraway places I travel reading my books.

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    1. Vagabonde, there is no better combination than travelling with books -- and now with the Kindle there is no limit to how many one can travel with!!!

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  16. You know when I first moved to France I was here for all of summer and then back to the UK for winter. I loved my summers as I had no TV and no English radio, if the world had blown up around me I would have been none the wiser. I hated going back to TV's and radios during winter. It was all doom and gloom and the weather was much the same! I am never though without a book. Diane

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    1. One of my favourite things is to have a 'stockpile' of books I've yet to read -- and I've got one piling up right now -- it's bliss. Especially as TV is rather dull at the moment -- in fact it gets duller with each year!

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  17. Hi Broad, I just wanted to say that the reason Jenny can't comment on your blog may be because of the new threaded comments that have replaced the embedded comment format you were using. It's causing all sorts of problems and the advice on the Blogger Help forum is to change to either pop-up or full-page comment format until the engineers have fixed the bugs. Just a suggestion......

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Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!