Posts tagged with "Lena Wimmer of Germany’s Maximilian University"

If you read a lot of fiction, scientists have very good news about your brain

May 15, 2024

It’s a big day for bookworms: Scientists studying how reading fiction affects your brain say the news is very good, reports Futurism.

In an interview with PsyPost, Lena Wimmer, a postdoctoral researcher at Germany’s Maximilian University, explained that she and her colleagues wanted to lay the groundwork for quantitative studies about fiction’s effect on thinking—and found, to their delight, that reading it is better for you than some detractors suggest.

“Over the last decades, scholars from several disciplines have claimed far-reaching benefits—but also potential disadvantages—of reading fiction for cognition in the real world,” she said. “I wanted to get an objective, quantitative overview of the relevant empirical evidence in order to decide whether any of these assumptions is supported by empirical studies.”

To figure out how reading fiction affects the brain, Wimmer and her co-researchers conducted two meta-analyses:

  • The first, as the German psychological researchers explain in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, looked into the results of a study that measured cognitive function for people who read various types of fiction.
  • The other took data from a longitudinal study that correlated lifelong fiction readership with cognitive outcomes ranging from abstract thinking and reasoning skills to the ability to empathize with others.

In the first meta-analysis—which included data from 70 studies and more than 11,000 participants—the researchers found that reading fiction had a small but “statistically significant” positive effect on subjects’ cognition. In particular, the people in that cohort who read more fiction seemed to better empathize with others and understand the way they thought, PsyPost explains.

That analysis also found that reading fiction was more impactful compared to either doing nothing or watching fiction on a screen than it was when held up against reading nonfiction.

The second meta-analysis—which included 114 studies and more than 30,000 participants—found an even more substantial positive correlation between reading fiction and cognitive abilities; especially when it came to verbal skills, reasoning, abstract thinking, and problem-solving. Like with the first analysis, the researchers found a general trend towards better emotional cognitive abilities like empathizing, though that correlation wasn’t as pronounced.

Overall, Wimmer said, both meta-analyses demonstrated similar trends: “That people who read a lot of fiction have better cognitive skills than people who read little or no fiction.”

“These benefits are small in size across various cognitive skills, but of medium size for verbal and general cognitive abilities,” she told PsyPost. “Importantly, there is a stronger association between reading fiction and cognitive skills than between reading nonfiction and those skills.”

By no means a smoking gun, this research introduces a framework for further study into how different types of reading habits affect our brains—but for now, let’s just say that the fiction section wins this round.

Research contact: @futurism