Monday, April 4, 2011

New Scientist.

Is my my favorite magazine. I may be in the wrong line of work, to the extent that I can be said to be in any line of work at all. But worlds collided recently when a neuroscientist wondered what would happen if test subjects were shoved into functional MRI machines while reading fiction. What happens to the story-distracted brain? A couple of things. One you might expect: the brain of a reader becomes more active in areas that relate to the emotion of a piece of fiction. Reading something scary? Your brain is feeling fear. Reading romance? Your brain "looks" romantic. Reading something sexy? They ran those MRI studies earlier, actually...

No surprises until they looked at what the rest of your brain is doing while you're reading. Interestingly, bits of it are shutting down. Not encouraging until you hear which bits in particular. Turns out that the parts of your brain that spend many of your waking and sleeping hours worrying about your life are turned off by reading fiction. When you read fiction, "you" and your worries disappear. Valuable information in the days leading up to tax season in the US, I think.

So even if you're like me and fling yourself regularly upon the altar of "serious" fiction, feeling noble and worthy that you don't have to read for pleasure, thank you very much, it turns out you are still reading for lack of pain. So when life is stomping on your head, pick up a good book before reaching for a drink.

Better yet, reach for a good book and a drink.

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