Monday, March 26, 2012

Fiction and Neuroscience — An Oddly Provocative Couple

A NYTimes Opinion article by author Annie Murphy Paul proclaims that support for the value of fiction has arrived unexpectedly from the field of neuroscience. Wow. Although I write nonfiction, I certainly read fiction; most recently The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen which I read with an unusual kind of enjoyment. I noticed how much her language engaged my thoughts and feelings in a way that had not happened to me previously. The Opinion piece fit what I felt and thought while reading Cohen's book,  but couldn't clearly understand or describe. Until now.

 Paul cites specific research and summarizes: "Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life." (My bold, not Paul's)

Coincidentally, I had just scoffed at a line of the Writer's Guidelines for Psychology Today.
     “Tell us why and how your story will change people's lives, if applicable, and mention sources you might contact.” 
 Daunting, I thought. An article would need to be expertly written by a highly credible, influential person to change someone’s life, if that’s even possible. Neuroscience and Paul changed my mind. It is possible. 

"Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined," Paul concludes.

I'll follow up in a later post with examples of cortex stimulating metaphors from Cohen's books. Any readers who have samples from their own writing or reading, please comment and let us know!

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