What’s your favorite book and why? The questions are more than just a way to fill your online dating profile—they’re insights into how beloved stories push our psychological and neurological buttons. How does good writing grab you by the brain? My fellow QDT host, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, leads us through four things your brain relishes in a good story.
Element #3: Good Stories Connect Us to Others
Stories that take us to another place or time (or dimension, for that matter) are an adventure, but those that take us to another perspective are even more powerful.
It’s been established that fiction fans tend to have greater empathy and improved Theory of Mind, which is not a theory at all, but a skill—the ability to understand that others can have different beliefs and perspectives from one’s own.
In 2009, a study in the journal Communications expanded this finding by showing that exposure to fiction not only went along with greater empathy, but also greater perceived social support and numbers of friends. Exposure to nonfiction, by contrast, went along with greater loneliness and a low sense of belonging.
The researchers theorized that improved empathy and Theory of Mind due to reading fiction might confer a greater ability to connect socially in the real world, all of which contradicts the image of the lonely, socially disconnected bookworm, lost in a novel or a fantasy. Turns out burying your head in a novel might actually be good for your social life.
Element #4: Good Stories Provide an Escape
Of course, there are times we neither want to connect with ourselves, nor with anyone else, and then, stories allow an escape. Many a child from a chaotic or unpredictable household has coped by escaping into the more orderly world of a good book. Many an adult has used books to cope with a life that’s not going the way they planned. Sometimes, good stories do nothing short of keep us alive.
Sometimes, good stories do nothing short of keep us alive.
We read when we feel good, to be sure, but we also read when we can’t or don’t want to deal with the world around us or the world inside our own head.
But to tell the whole story, perhaps it’s not just the escape that we like, but the person we are when we finish that last page and close the book. Good stories not only engage us, move us, and connect us, but help us re-emerge into reality stronger, calmer, and more prepared to tackle the world.