NYT: Your Brain on Fiction

In my recent Amazon review of Son In Sorrow, I express how I felt like I was really there, experiencing [the story and its characters] first hand. Today, I saw an article on in the New York Times called Your Brain on Fiction, which is about what happens in the brain when we read.

    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...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.

So, here we have a clear and science-based explanation for why reading makes us feel like we're IN the story, and why it can be good for us.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

There are certain kinds of books I can't read; they haunt me to the point of making me physically unwell...

Katie's picture


There are absolutely books like that for me, too.

Pikachu42's picture


I read Prozac Nation and plummeted.

Katie's picture


When I was little and was reading Redwall, I found myself referring to my hands as paws for a few hours after I finished reading. When I read The Name of the Wind recently, I found myself thinking like the main character. It's rather a relief to find an explanation for this!

Sean's picture

This was common wisdom in the later Middle Ages, n.b. Books were seen as a source of timeless wisdom, and only some people complained that fiction could teach false lessons. See for example Mary Carruthers' [i]The Book of Memory[/i]. I'm not sure if I find an unsourced newspaper article more convincing than Robert of Basevorn, but maybe I will try to find their sources.

Clare-Dragonfly's picture


I saw that article (or perhaps just an excerpt from it) before reading Son in Sorrow. Then I thought of it again at the end of the book because I was so strongly affected.

I remember when I was younger I would always think the way the main character had been after I finished a book; that doesn't happen as much anymore, but it might just be because I'm more likely to be reading multiple books at once.

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