A Moment of Science

Eye-Opening Facts About Fiction

Literature offers a great mental vacation and opens the brain to new ways of thinking.

A brain puzzle is displayed on a book shelf.

Photo: Rebecca Stanek (Flickr)

Is your brain in a rut? Escape through fiction.

Literary Thinking

Reading literature doesn’t just flex your powers of imagination, it also expands your capacity for creative reasoning. A 2013 study at the University of Toronto has shown that reading literature is excellent mental “conditioning” for becoming more open‑minded.

It turns out that reading fictional stories prompts a mental response that’s distinct from what happens when we read nonfiction texts like newspapers and essays. Literature releases you from the pressures of real‑world decision‑making, and lets you enter the mindset of characters who are often very different from yourself.

The Great Escape

You may not be as imaginative or impulsive as Anne of Green Gables, but reading helps you see the world through her eyes. And while reading about and thinking like Anne, you’re reducing what psychologists call your need for “cognitive closure.”

People who need a lot of cognitive closure get frustrated or anxious when they face confusing or complex situations. They often jump to conclusions before fully thinking through things.

This “closed” mental state can be damaging to rationality and creativity. Luckily, though, the simple act of cracking open a book and diving into its literary world opens the brain up to new ways of thinking.

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