A 2013 study at the University of Toronto has shown that reading literature is excellent mental âconditioningâ 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 fromÂ 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 âcognitive closure.â
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 âcognitive closure.â People who need a lot of âcognitive closureâ get frustrated or anxious when they face confusing or complex situations. They often jump to conclusions before fully thinking things through.
This âclosedâ 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
- Fong, K. & Mar, R. A. (2011). "Exposure to narrative fiction versus expository nonfiction: Diverging social and cognitive outcomes." In F. Hakemulder (Ed.), De stralende lezer: wetenschappelijk onderzoek naar de invloed van het lezenÂ [The radiant reader: scientific research concerning the influence of reading] (pp. 55â68). Delft, NL: Eburon Academic.
- Djikic, M., Oatley, K., & Moldoveanu, M. C. (2013). Opening the Closed Mind: The Effect of Exposure to Literature on the Need for Closure, Creativity Research Journal, 25:2, 149â154.
- Paul, A. M. Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer. Time. June 3, 2013.
- Jacobs, T. Literature Improves Thinking. bentonenglish.com. May 26, 2018.
- Meyer, S. Reading fiction 'improves empathy', study finds. The Guardian. September 7, 2011.