Courtesy of Danielle Pigeon – the tea conjurer

I love curling up with a good book, particularly on a dark and wet day when I’m rugged up under a warm blanket. Not only am I enjoying the reading, but I’m also boosting my ‘mind-reading’ abilities or theory of mind, according to research reported in a Huffington Post article. The article discusses literature as opposed to popular fiction, but other research by David Kidd distinguishes between reading literature and a thrilling bestseller novel. With a literary novel, the reader learns about responsibility but in popular fiction, you can be moved along a roller-coaster ride. Furthermore, Kidd and a social psychologist, Emanuele Castano reported that the skills used to work through these fictional worlds help us in real life. Fiction reading helps you to understand and know someone else’s mental state and is closely related to empathy whereby you can identify and share the feelings of others.

There seems to be growing evidence that connects reading fiction with ‘mind-reading’ ability. For example, when someone raises their hand, you know they are being friendly rather than wishing to hit you. Self-reported readers tend to perform better than those who don’t read, on particular tests of empathy. In my opinion, empathy is connected to reading and understanding the fictional world of characters. You learn to understand motivations, character types, goals, flaws, and thereby gain the perspectives of all the characters.

Kidd and Castano found in their research that there is a connection between fiction and theory of mind. However, those fiction readers who read literacy texts scored higher than those who read popular fiction. The difference wasn’t significant. Some researchers also believe that popular fiction can become literary due to its popularity.

The many benefits of reading to keep you smart, healthy and happy include the following:

  • research published in the online issue of the journal, Neurology stated that those who completed mentally engaging tasks like reading showed slower memory decline compared to those who didn’t read (at a later age).
  • as mentioned above, reading can enhance your empathy. Getting hooked on a powerful character is good for you.
  • reading self-help books in combination with support sessions on how to apply the principles in the book, was connected to reduced rates of depression after one year, compared to patients who obtained typical therapy (research published in the journal PLOS ONE).
  • reading allows you to recreate pictures as you engage with the story and the characters. This is how you gain understanding and joy from the book.
  • all reading can stimulate your brain but it’s also important to analyse what you read (in non-fiction) as you give your brain a workout.
  • reading can increase your vocabulary, spatial awareness, and ability to communicate.
  • a good book can reduce levels of unhealthy stress hormones such as cortisol. A British study found that people who did something anxiety-arousing then either read for several minutes, listened to music, or played video games found that stress levels reduced by 67% for those who read. This was more significant than the other two activities or groups.
  • reading can inspire you to reach your life goals. By reading about characters overcoming obstacles, you can become inspired to meet your own goals. The more you’re able to relate to a character in the story and experience the events as if you’re playing them out, the more likely you’re able to perform in a similar way in your own life.
  • reading can make you feel uplifted, so you increase positivity and trigger pleasant memories. If the character attended a barbecue on the beach, it may remind you of your time at a party on the beach you had attended (a positive experience).

Generally speaking, reading presents with a range of health benefits by reducing stress levels, encouraging positive thoughts, and protecting your brain from declining. Do you enjoy reading? If not, does this article convince you to give reading a go? Try it out for size.