How does fiction affect our subconscious?

(feature article)

Science journalist Nicholas Carr wrote an essay that collected information about how our brains perceive fiction and how it affects our minds. Researchers at the University of Washington in St. Louis decided to use brain scans to study brain activity while reading fiction. They found that readers mentally simulate every situation they encounter in the story. The brain uses the same neurons that repeat the described actions in real life: if the hero puts a pencil on the table, then in the reader’s brain the parts of the brain that are responsible for muscle control are activated, and so on.

The reader`s brain is not just a mirror. The actions taking place in some book are intertwined with his or her experience and knowledge already gained. Each reader creates his or her own world and settles in it – as if it were real.

In 2009, an experiment was conducted at the University of Toronto, the creators of which wanted to explain how much the emotions evoked by literature can change the personality of the reader. The researchers took 166 students and asked them to take a standard test that describes personality and takes into characteristics such as sociability, conscientiousness and compliance.

After that, one group of respondents was given Chekhov’s story ‘The Lady with the Dog’ to read, and the second group was presented only with a summary of the same work, without literary language.

After that, both groups were again asked to take the test. It turned out that the results of people who read the original text changed much more than the results of the second group – and the effect was due to the emotional response from the story. Interestingly, all the readers have changed a little differently. In the mind of the reader, each book is rewritten anew, and the mind itself is also rewritten by the book.

And it means, that ‘Literature is not just a simulation of social experience, it is social experience,’ according to scientist David Comer Kidd for the Guardian newspaper.

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