Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Research into Theory of Mind Demonstrates a Need for Fiction

Most of my writing these days in fact-based; despite having a third story published this year, I don't really think of myself as trying to write fiction lately. But maybe I should revisit that. Turns out that fiction, contrary to what 47 states' new educational standards say, is vital to the development of understanding other people. Yes, just as the CCSS calls for an increase in the amount of non-fiction being taught in Language Arts classes, and a decrease of fiction, new brain research is showing that reading fiction acts on our brains in fascinating ways.

Here's an opinion piece from the New York Times:

"Your Brain on Fiction
By Annie Murphy Paul
March 17, 2012

AMID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.       

Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life..."

And here's what the Los Angeles Times had to say:

Another Use for Literature
December 29, 2013

"... Developmental psychologists track when children first display this ability by testing them with stories like this: 'Every day, Sally puts her beloved toy rabbit Stuffy on her pillow before going to preschool. One day, after Sally leaves for school, her father notices that Stuffy is quite dirty and puts him in the washing machine. He intends to then put him in the dryer, but forgets. When Sally returns from school that day, she wants to tell her friend Stuffy about her day. Where would she expect to find him?'

A child who has not yet developed the skills of theory of mind will say, 'In the washing machine.' The child knows where Stuffy is from having heard the story, and so assumes that Sally must know this too. Only when a child has developed the intuitive ability to put herself in another's shoes can she recognize that Sally would not know about the laundering, because it happened after she left for school, and so would look for Stuffy on her bed...

Now, research by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano of the New School for Social Research, published in the journal Science, suggests that reading literature improves these intuitive abilities. But not just any literature. Literature with a capital L."

Intriguing stuff. It's definitely making me value my own habit of reading good writing on a daily basis.