Literary Fiction Opens Your Mind, Research Shows

I’m a non-fiction nut. I can’t seem to get away from it. I love information, ideas and perspectives. So if you had asked me before Sunday morning which types of books I’d call the most mind-opening, I might’ve said philosophy. What could open your mind more than the arguments, assertions and ideas of history’s greatest thinkers?

But new research published in the Creativity Research Journal found that reading literary fiction can open our minds and help diminish that all-too-human itch for closure. From Pacific Standard:

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

Why is this? “The thinking a person engages in while reading fiction does not necessarily lead him or her to a decision,” writes Djikic and her colleagues. Additionally, they say, when we read fiction, we’re placed in the minds of other characters — whether we like them or not. This not only causes us to see the world through someone else’s eyes (even if that “someone” is a fictional character), but also prompts us to think about things without that pesky need to arrive at a decision.

…I should have known. How many times has an author created the “bad guy” who — once you get to know him — isn’t as rotten to the core as you originally thought? As a reader, you may even find yourself empathizing with him. It’s as though we relax our “judging” muscle as we immerse ourselves in story, without even realizing the psychological effects of the experience.

Has a work of fiction ever challenged your worldview? Tell me about it in the comments!

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