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!