Paris 2012I admit that I don’t read romance books that much. I read detective and science fiction books, but none of them contain much romantic plot. A practical person by nature, anything “overly romantic” is corny to me.

An article by Annie Murphy Paul in New York Times on March 17th, 2012 titled “Your Brain on Fiction” shook my core.  Perhaps I should read more romance fictions, or well, at least, more fiction books.

Cited from Paul’s article:

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas. In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.”

Thus, reading fiction would be useful to stimulate parts of brain that we don’t use or stimulate that much. Reading fiction is just like having real-life social interactions and those who have limited opportunities to interact with others may gain some benefits. Reading fiction is a good way to balance our brain chemistry without having to experience it in real-life.

A book of fiction is a laboratory of life packaged with a lot of fun. If you read about love, then love will fill your heart and brain. It’s pretty cool. []

Creative Commons License photo credit: Olly M Pus