Saturday, 26 April 2014

5 Astounding Ways Reading Fiction Can Boost Well-being

Note from Lucy: This is a guest post from the wonderful Angeliki over on Reading Psychology. I've read Angeliki's blog for a few years now, and she shares so many of my own thoughts on the link between reading and wellbeing (see her posts on bibliosophy and fiction for depression). Therefore, I'm so excited to have this post on my own blog.

I do hope you enjoy reading this well-researched piece as much as I have - do check out her blog for more of the same!

Reasons fiction can boost wellbeing

Books can transport you to a fantasy world. The fact that reading a book is usually a solitary activity means that it can be a special part of you, a secret world that it is completely under your control about when and for how long to jump in.

Books can also be therapeutic. Reading helps me navigate through personal uncertainties and helps me identify problems and solutions and remind me that there is always another perspective in things.

I’m a researcher by trade and I wanted to find out whether the effects of reading fiction were a personal quirk or whether these effects are more universal. I turned to science and this is what I found:

1. Books open your mind

According to a recent Canadian study (Djikic et al., 2013) reading a literary short story expands your comfort with ambiguity. People who have just read a short story express more comfort with disorder and uncertainty- attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and great creativity- when compared with peers who have just read an essay.

2. Books can help you lose weight

According to another study by Pampel (2011), reading despite being sedentary, is actually associated with lower body weights, particularly in higher income nations. Random but awesome!

3. Books enhance empathy

Through reading we expose ourselves to a larger range of emotions. Novels often contain unreliable characters or narrators, forcing the reader to fill in the gaps himself. That guessing, in turn, strengthens your ability to understand others’ feelings in real life as well (Comer Kidd & Castano, 2013).

4. Books can facilitate change

Green and Brock (2000) showed that when readers became transported into a story, their attitudes about topics that were included in the story changed more strongly than those who were not transported into a story.

5. Books teach you how to behave in social circumstances

Paluck (2009) studied how a reconciliation radio program influenced perceptions of social norms in postwar Rwanda and found that through these radio stories, people’s perceived norms about how one should behave in social situations increased over time.

I find these research findings fascinating. Books can indeed help with various aspects of psychological (and physical!) well-being. However, let’s not forget that having fun is also essential, and often the primary reason we choose to read a book.

Choosing books of your interest and taste is the only way to enjoy the activity and consequently reap the benefits of reading. So, don’t worry about books you ‘should be reading’ or books that ‘everyone talks about’, choose what you please and enjoy!

Do you want find out more? Here are some interesting articles on bibliotherapy:

4. Books can heal: bibliotherapy and the effect or reading on the brain

5. ‘Losing yourself’ in a fictional character can affect your real life

Do you believe that reading fiction can help us to boost our sense of wellbeing? Share your experience in the comments box - I'd love to hear from you. Also, do check out Reading Psychology for more like this!

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Rivorniel Tinubelin said...

I love your both blogs! I am also a firm believer that books are very theraupetic and can help a lot, depending on what you read and in which state of mind in life.

Brian Joseph said...

Great list. As you know I whole heartily agree with you on most of the above points.

I may be a little skeptical about the weight loss thing despite the study:) Of course people who read a lot may be have a greater sense of well being in all the other ways which might encourage a healthier lifestyle.

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Riv - so glad you also think so! And I love your blog and Angeliki's too ;) Hope you're well and reading lots!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you Brian, it's always great to hear your thoughts!

And yes, some more research into the possible link between reading and weight loss would be great, I think! Advances in psychology are leading to some really interesting findings when it comes to the effects of reading on the brain, and I'm so keen to hear what's to come.

Hope you're well,

BlogABookEtc said...

Such a good set of points I think books help people reason with issues in reality and make them much more understanding as it gives them the chance to take in and reason with their own beliefs. It would be lovely if the weight loss was true! But then again if you feel good in yourself then you will lose or gain weight depending I guess!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you, Fay! I really enjoyed this guest post, and I definitely agree with the points you've made, particularly when it comes to reasoning with our own issues. What would we do without books?! :)