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Literature and the Brain

A 2013 study at the University of Toronto has shown that reading literature is excellent mental “conditioning” for becoming more open-minded. (Djikic, 2013) According to this study, reading fictional stories prompts a mental response that's distinct from what happens when we read non-fiction texts like newspapers and essays.

Opening the Mind



Literature releases its readers from the pressures of real-world decision-making, and lets them enter the mindset of characters who are often very different.

For example, a reader may not be an eccentric day-dreamer like Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, but she will still enjoy seeing the world through his eyes while she reads. What is most surprising is that while she is reading about and thinking like Ignatius, she is also reducing what psychologists call your need for “cognitive closure.”

Cognitive Closure



In the University of Toronto study, one hundred college students were asked to read either fiction or non-fiction and were then tested for their 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 things through.

This “closed” mental state can be damaging to rationality and creativity. Luckily, the simple act of opening up a book and diving into the world of a new character can also open people up to new ways of thinking they might never have considered before.

Sources and Further Reading





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