Is Fiction Good for You?

Emeritus Professor at Toronto University, Keith Oatley was on the Today Programme, erm, today, discussing the remedial power of fiction.

Oatley worked in a small research group, examining how fiction might be good for wellbeing. Oatley and his colleagues looked at how the amount of fiction people read was related to levels of empathy and social understanding, concluding that there was a positive correlation between the amount of fiction people read and their social abilities.

Oatley discussed how this contradicted notions of ‘bookworms’ locking themselves away for hours whilst reading and not making any time for friends. In fact, reading has the ability to help people deal with the social world that surrounds them.

Oatley said fiction was comparable to a ‘flight simulator’, because the immersion of the individual into another world and experiencing characters’ emotional and social encounters can help them understand their own lives. In Oatley’s newly published book, Such Stuff as Dreams, he describes how fiction can engage our minds in thoughts not only about those around us, but ourselves.

This offers further support to The Reader Organisation’s ethos and ongoing projects, providing shared reading groups and reading events utilising novels, short stories, poetry and plays, benefiting the wellbeing of those we reach. Our evaluations prove that we are helping people and research from the likes of Prof. Keith Oatley provide further evidence of the intrinsic link between fiction and wellbeing.

5 thoughts on “Is Fiction Good for You?”

  1. so true but often wonder why it took so long to find this out ! shows how much TRO can do in 10 years (?) where will it be in another 10
    I still enjoy reading by myself as can take you to another world and an understanding of others in the story , but although I have lately become an A+ (could not find the star thingy ) person in argueing or should that be discussing , it is not very good argueing with yourself , although have been wondering wether their should be an e in argue ing and the spellcheck has gone walkabout !
    READING woth others can make you see things in a totally different light and in my case alot more mouthy umm not sure wether that is a good or bad thing but their lies another arguement 1

    1. Hi Lou, I agree the next thing people need to think about is the very real difference between reading by yourself and reading with other people – as you say, they are related but there is a hugely significant difference when reading – and perhaps especially serious reading – becomes social. Bring on the researchers!

  2. Yes, it HAS actually been known for ages, Louise, it’s just that people talk (and write) about it more now (a bit like how Shakespeare wrote about the ‘Oedipus Complex’ in Hamlet long before Freud called it that, and ‘pathetic fallacy’ was being used and understood centuries before Ruskin).
    As long as I’ve been in education – paid and voluntary – which is over 30 years, we’ve read in groups and it has always made a difference. I have people tell me every week how much reading aloud together in my groups helps them. Not necessarily medically, of course,I wouldn’t like to claim that because I’m not THAT kind of doctor (lol), but in terms of lifting the spirits, giving carers a break, encouraging the shy, releasing the emotions: what the Greeks called catharsis, I guess, thousands of years ago.
    So, maybe it’s just another case of what we all know being suddenly stated as a revelation – like it’s good for you to eat fruit – and when you share the fruit, it tastes better, huh?!

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