This is no surprise for those of us who love to read fiction. But this does give us a good argument in recruiting other readers. “You should read good fiction,” we can say, “because you can experience it as if it was really happening to you.” Maybe we don’t have to learn everything the hard way.
Here are the details. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University recruited eight adult volunteers to lie in a scanner for 45 minutes reading a projection of Chapter 9 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, an exciting chapter in which Harry plays quidditch, faces bullies, and meets a scary three-headed dog. The research was published Wednesday by the journal PLoS One.
Leila Wehbe, lead researcher, summarized findings for the Associated Press. The brain region that processes the characters’ point of view is the one people use to perceive intentions behind real individuals’ actions, she said. In addition, a brain region that helped decipher characters’ emotions is actually the one we use to visually interpret real individuals’ emotions.
If fiction is so tied to reality in our brains, we fiction readers need to help promote books that will lift the readers up, not drag them down, and at least gently point them toward their need for a savior, not away. Be sure to let some folks know today about the latest books you have been reading that did these things for you.