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Does Reading Fiction Make You Smarter? 7 Reasons Why

by Michael Scivoli
does reading fiction make you smarter?

Here at the Digest, we are firm believers in the “reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” concept. When it comes to boosting brainpower, though, we often reach for non-fiction—and rightfully so. We cruise through self-help books. Whether it’s “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle or “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, we seek out similar titles when we want to improve our minds. Novels, however, can help us sharpen our mental swords in ways that non-fiction cannot. So does reading fiction make you smarter?

The short answer is yes.

While that post-apocalyptic novel you read might not exactly scream “self-improvement,” you’re still reaping the mental benefits. You are, in essence, navigating a new world that exists only in your mind (and on the page).

I’ve always personally gravitated towards novels. As I entered my collegiate years, I began to mix in more self-improvement titles. In my thirties, I’ve come to realize that a healthy mix of both keeps me grounded. But I’ve also found that fiction does things for my brain that non-fiction simply cannot (and vice versa). When I read, I am tapping into the minds of others and thinking critically about each twist and turn. These mental exercises are what builds vocabulary, creativity and even empathy. Novels remind us what it means to be human.

So does reading fiction make you smarter? Here are seven reasons why:

1. Boost your brain connectivity.

Like something out of “The Twilight Zone,” volunteers of a 2013 Atlanta study had their brains scanned before, during and after reading a novel. The results revealed heightened responsiveness to language, sense of touch, and embodiment. Good books stay with us on a cognitive level. Now, there’s proof of their more biological effects. But don’t take their word for it, pick up a book and see how you feel. (Read more about this study at Jeremy Dean’s PsyBlog.)

reading novels makes you smarter

Photography by Annie Spratt

2. Become a better writer.

You may not know it, but as you read you are learning new techniques and devices to use in your own writing. One of my creative writing professors used to say, “Listen twice as much as you speak, and read twice as much as you write.” Savor each tidbit of information while reading, they will come in handy the next time you pick up a pen or your MacBook.

3. Keep mental stressors at bay.

This might be a shock, but stress actually kills brain cells. Some of the more radical studies even claim that stress can reduce the size of your brain. The next time you feel stressed, pick up a good paperback and force yourself to read for 15 minutes. The simple colors of the pages combined with good characterization will take your mind away from your troubles. If you’re like me, you just might not stop.

4. Become more empathetic.

Nothing says vicarious experience quite like a good novel. In Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch says it best:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

If you want to get in touch with your compassionate side, boost your E.Q. (emotional intelligence) and understand people, read a novel.

does reading fiction make you smarter?

Photography by Annie Spratt

5. Expand your vocabulary.

Improving your vocab here is a given. The more you read in life, the more you’ll catch yourself using new words during conversations. Don’t be intimidated by unfamiliar language (Google is your best friend), reading it will only make you sound more intelligent.

6. Improve work performance.

Our CEO and publisher, Tom LaVecchia, will love this one. Aside from working out those memory muscles, you’re examining character behavior when you read a novel. This will improve your analytical skills and ability to understand everyone’s motives. If you find it difficult to concentrate at work (especially while working from home), reading can actually enhance your brain’s ability to absorb information.

7. Become more cultured.

You may not want to befriend any of the characters in a Charles Dickens novel, but you’ll enjoy reading about them. Reading will give you a greater perception of life’s mysteries. It will also give you a window into how other cultures live, even if they are ficticious. Through this, you can transcend the limitations if your own cultural surrounding and God forbid, think outside the box. Step outside of your comfort zone. Learn about how things are done in another country, in a foreign culture, on a different planet, etc.

Does reading fiction make you feel smarter? Let us know below!

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