April 7, 2014
"Just as computer simulations help us come to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting weather, so novels, stories and dramas help us understand the complexities of social life.”
Does reading fiction have any impact on students brains?
Neuroscience has an unexpected answer to this . Recent neuro-scientific research posted in the New York Times reveals that reading stories with detailed descriptions and complicated plots written in an evocative and emotional language full of metaphors and other figures of speech does stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
Researchers have found that the language employed in fiction works stimulates areas in the brain other than those traditional sections responsible for analyzing the written codes. "Words like 'lavender','cinnamon' and 'soap', for example, elicit a response not only from the language processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells".
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Amazingly enough, researchers from Emory University discovered through a series of brain scans done on a number of subjects that their brains respond differently to metaphors.
For instance, when the subjects read a metaphor that involves texture, the sensory cortex ( that part of the brain responsible for perceiving texture through touch) became active. " Metaphors like 'the singer had a velvet voice' and 'he had leathery hands' roused the sensory cortex; phrases matched for meaning, like 'the singer had a pleasing voice' and 'he had strong hands' did not.
The same thing applies to words describing motion.In a study chaired by cognitive scientist Veronique Boulenger of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, participants brains were reported to have increasing activity in motor cortex when reading motion phrases like " john grasped the objet' and Pablo kicked the ball'.
In another two research studies published in 2006 and 2009, Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar found out that "individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective."
Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”