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  • - So I like to think that I read a lot of books,

  • but actually the majority of what I read is fiction

  • rather than kinda useful productivity books.

  • So I always have a fantasy series going on Audible,

  • these days the "Wheel of Time" series,

  • and I've also got some sort

  • of paranormal romance type genre book on Kindle

  • that I read before bed,

  • these days "A Court of Thorn and Roses."

  • But as a self-professed productivity grease monkey,

  • I've often wondered, is reading fiction a waste of time,

  • or is it actually good for you?

  • I feel bad about watching TV or playing video games

  • because it feels like a waste of time,

  • but I would easily stay up

  • until four o'clock in the morning reading

  • about some werewolf and how he's fallen in love

  • with this girl with psychic powers.

  • - Stranger things happen every day.

  • - Clearly that's not productive either,

  • but for some reason reading feels more legit

  • than watching TV.

  • So in this episode of "Journal Club,"

  • the series where we look at scientific papers

  • to find some important insights,

  • we're analyzing whether reading fiction is good for you

  • and therefore whether I'm allowed

  • to continue reading this sort of trash

  • or if I should donate my multiple signed copies

  • of "Twilight" to a children's library.

  • American author Ann Patchett famously said,

  • "Reading fiction gives us the ability

  • to feel empathy for people we've never met,

  • living lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves,

  • because the book puts us inside the character's skin."

  • Now, I'm gonna be honest.

  • So I'm a doctor, in case you didn't know,

  • but to get into med school I had to convince a bunch

  • of people that somehow empathy was one

  • of my strongest character traits.

  • But between you and me,

  • I've always kinda struggled to relate to people

  • when it comes to the realm of negative emotions.

  • I'm a pretty happy and privileged guy in general,

  • and so if someone else is feeling stressed or angry or sad,

  • I often find it hard to really kind of appreciate

  • where they're coming from.

  • The good news is that apparently reading fiction helps

  • with social cognition and empathy.

  • So we've got this meta-analysis from 2018

  • that looked at 14 different studies all around this link

  • between empathy and fiction, and they found that,

  • "Compared to nonfiction reading or no reading,

  • fiction reading leads to a small,

  • statistically significant improvement

  • in social-cognitive performance,"

  • which is exactly what I need in my life.

  • There's even some evidence

  • that reading fiction helps reduce our prejudice and bias,

  • which is particularly important in these sorts of times.

  • This study from 2014, for example, said that,

  • "Reading narrative fiction appears

  • to ameliorate biased categorical and emotional perception

  • of mixed-race individuals."

  • And in fact, my own first real understanding

  • of racism as a thing came from reading Malorie Blackman's

  • incredible "Noughts & Crosses" series

  • when I was like 11 years old.

  • Okay, so we've established

  • that I should continue reading fiction

  • to help boost my empathy, but there's even some evidence

  • that reading fiction helps boost our cognitive brainpower

  • or performance from a very young age.

  • This study, for example,

  • conducted by the the website testyourvocab.com,

  • found that reading builds our vocabulary,

  • which is pretty obvious,

  • but they also discovered that those who read fiction

  • in particular had a much more varied and deeper vocabulary

  • than those who read nonfiction books.

  • So reading fiction expands our vernacular

  • more than reading nonfiction does.

  • But we've also got some studies

  • that show using functional MRI scanning

  • that different parts of our brain light up

  • when we're reading different sorts of fiction.

  • We've got this study from 2013, for example,

  • that shows that when we read fiction,

  • we get the lighting up of our left temporal cortex,

  • which is the bit of the brain that deals with language.

  • That's not hugely surprising,

  • but this study from Spain showed that if you read words

  • like lavender, perfume, and coffee,

  • that reading those words lights up the smell regions

  • of the brain, which is kinda cool.

  • And we've got this study from France that shows

  • that if you read about different motor activities,

  • it lights up different parts of the motor cortex.

  • So "Ali threw the cat" (cat meows)

  • would light up a different part of the brain

  • than "Ali kicked the cat" (cat meows)

  • because they're two kinda different actions,

  • and that's kinda cool as well.

  • So does that show that reading fiction is good for us?

  • Well, no, not directly, but it does show that when we read,

  • we're also lighting up different parts of our brain

  • other than just the bits of the brain that process language.

  • Okay, so we've established

  • that reading fiction is good for empathy,

  • and it's good for language development,

  • but did you know reading fiction is also good

  • for health in general?

  • This study from the University of Sussex in the U.K.,

  • for example, showed that reading fiction is better

  • for reducing stress levels than going for a walk,

  • listening to music, or playing video games.

  • They said in the paper that,

  • "Reading for as little as six minutes is sufficient

  • to reduce stress levels by 60%, slowing heart beat,

  • easing muscle tension and altering the state of mind,"

  • whatever that means.

  • And in the same study, they also showed that reading

  • before bed helps improve the quality of sleep,

  • so that's another plus point for reading.

  • So that was in the short term,

  • but there is some evidence that reading

  • over the long term helps reduce

  • our cognitive decline as we age

  • and might potentially even slow down the development

  • of disorders like dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

  • This study from 2011, for example, says that,

  • "Being engaged in more reading and hobby activities

  • and spending more time each week reading is associated

  • with a lower subsequent risk of incident dementia."

  • Now, again, this is just a correlation, not a causation,

  • but it's kinda cool.

  • And in fact we've even got an NHS page

  • that answers the question

  • of whether lifelong reading could protect against dementia.

  • It says on the page that

  • although these studies "cannot provide conclusive proof

  • that greater cognitive activity directly prevents

  • development of mild cognitive impairments

  • or diagnoses of dementia,"

  • it does accept that regular reading could be helpful,

  • and it recommends to pick up a library card

  • or, in my case, a Kindle and Audible subscription.

  • Not sponsored. Link in the video description.

  • So what does all this mean for my own reading habits?

  • Well, I don't know.

  • To be honest, I read for enjoyment anyway,

  • and when I'm reading fiction,

  • I'm not actively trying to be productive.

  • But I do like it when the stuff that I do for fun

  • also has some of benefit over the long run.

  • So who knows?

  • Maybe I'll pick up a PlayStation

  • and start playing some video games

  • and do a video about that,

  • about whether video games are good for you.

  • I'm sure they are in some way.

  • And I think really the key is that just having a balance.

  • Obviously if the only thing I did

  • in my life was read fiction,

  • I'd never get anything else done,

  • but I think reading fiction

  • and listening to fantasy audiobooks

  • on Audible does help me wind down.

  • It helps me relax,

  • which means I can be a productivity grease monkey

  • for the rest of my life.

  • If you liked this video,

  • click here to check out the "Book Club" series.

  • That's a little playlist of videos

  • where I talk about insights from popular nonfiction books.

  • And if you wanna read fiction,

  • then I'd really recommend you check out some fantasy books,

  • and here is a video

  • with my three favorite fantasy series of all time

  • that you should definitely check out.

  • Thanks for watching, and see you in the next video.

  • Bye bye.

- So I like to think that I read a lot of books,

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B1 UK reading read empathy cognitive study dementia

Is Reading Fiction a Waste of Time?

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    eleanorjellyfish posted on 2020/11/08
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