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Study suggests reading novels can make better thinkers

June 26, 2013 8:48am
Here's one more reason to read novels: a study has suggested that reading literary fiction can enhance people's thinking process and help them avoid so-called snap judgments.

An article posted on Salon.com said the study by three Toronto scholars led by psychologist Maja Djikic said this is one of the benefits of "exposure to literature."

“The thinking a person engages in while reading fiction does not necessarily lead him or her to a decision,” they said, adding this lessens the reader’s need to come to a definitive conclusion.

Even better, they said the reader can get a feel of the thinking styles even of the characters he or she might personally dislike.

Such a "double release" – of thinking in ways different than one’s own — "may produce effects of opening the mind,” they added.

“Exposure to literature may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds,” the researchers write in the Creativity Research Journal.

In their study, the researchers found people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.”

Also, those who read a novel seem more comfortable with disorder and uncertainty than those who read an essay, the study showed.

Such comfort with disorder and uncertainty may allow sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

Experiment

Djikic and her colleagues describe an experiment featuring 100 University of Toronto students, who read either one of eight short stories or one of eight essays.

Each participant then filled out a survey measuring their emotional need for certainty and stability.

They were to express agreement or disagreement with statements as “I don’t like situations that are uncertain” and “I dislike questions that can be answered in many different ways.”

Salon.com said those who read a short story had significantly lower scores on that test than those who read an essay.

They expressed less need for order and more comfort with ambiguity.

Such an effect was particularly pronounced among those who reported being frequent readers of either fiction or non-fiction.

While the researchers cannot say how long this effect might last, they indicated this is stronger in frequent readers, suggesting that such people may become programmed to respond in this way.

“It is likely that only when experiences of this kind accumulate to reach some critical mass would they lead to long-term changes of meta-cognitive habits,” they said. — LBG/TJD, GMA News



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