Is reading fiction a waste of time?

As a literature student, reading fiction is a part of my life. However, barring that, I’d like to think that I love reading books. While I love picking up a non-fiction every now and then for creating a better and more optimised life for myself, the majority of my reading list consists of fiction books. My love for reading surfaced when I picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the library. So, it’s not surprising that I love fiction.

However, is there any benefit to reading fiction? Or is it just a waste of time? Let’s dive in and find out! As an analytical person, who believes in finding conclusions based on logic, I have referred to various studies to find out about the effects of reading fiction.

It helps us build empathy and social cognition

Scientific research shows that reading fiction can be really helpful for building empathy and facilitating personal growth and maturation. Psychologists have conducted a variety of studies to demonstrate how reading fiction aids in the betterment of social cognition.

Readers of fiction score higher on measures of empathy and theory of mind—the ability to think about others’ thoughts and feelings—than non-readers, even after controlling for age, gender, intelligence and personality factors.

Dr Diana Tamir, Reading fiction and reading minds: the role of simulation in the default network

It helps in boosting cognitive brainpower

While reading fiction aids in social cognition development, it also helps us in synthesising a deeper vocabulary and expands our vernacular. There has been significant research that shows that reading fiction helps us develop a far richer vocabulary than reading non-fiction.

It aids in proper sleep

Reading fiction can reduce your stress level and help you to fall asleep faster. So, a little bit of cosy reading before bed can actually provide a sleep-inducing effect.

Reading for as little as 6 minutes is sufficient to reduce stress levels by 60%, showing heartbeat, easing muscle tension and altering the state of mind.

Dr David Lewis, Sussex University

It might be useful in the reduction of cognitive decline

Researchers have conveyed the idea of fiction-reading helps with psychological effects like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Although there is no conclusive proof about this yet, psychologists say that it might actually help reduce any effects of cognitive decline.

Engaging in cognitively stimulating leisure activities in late life may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and overall dementia.  

Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia: The MoVIES Project

It improves our decision-making ability

Reading fiction aids in proper decision-making as it helps us to view a certain situation from a different perspective. This helps in thinking rationally while making a decision and thus, enabling better and logical conclusions.

Story processing overlapped with many regions of the core mentalizing network, and these shared regions bear some resemblance to a network implicated by a number of other processes.

Raymond A. Mar, The neural bases of social cognition and story comprehension

It provides us with a taste of different cultures

Lastly, fiction books transport us to a different world altogether. It might not be real, but it provides us with an escape from the hard reality at times. And sometimes, that’s what we need. Reading fiction recharges our mind and lets us get back and be more productive and efficient. It also helps us in experiencing different cultures and traditions through pages.

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