I've touched on this subject before: The need for fiction in everyday life. In other posts I've discussed how it can help your sex-life, open your eyes to new subjects, benefit video games & pornography, and the benefits reading has towards sleep & how you can read in your sleep.
The general trend between almost all of those topics is that reading, particularly fiction, can help make you a better person. That is, if you desire such a thing. As usual, I was reading and stumbled upon a great article focusing on a study that might have proven that indulging in a good fiction story can make you a better learner, a better thinker, and consequently, a better person.
Like most people, though, I was a bit skeptical. I can see the easy argument that all writers would want you to keep reading, right? We make money that way (sometimes). However, I wouldn't write with the intent on a making a profit, unless it was in the intrinsic sense. So . . .
Does fiction really help you learn?
Although I often attempt to avoid it, some of my writings have ambiguous endings, or if not endings, scenes. What's strange is, I love stories that have those few moments that make you think, but I feel there are really two types here:
1. Teasers that are easy to answer because the answers were given to you. A lot of people enjoy these because it's like Ah-Ha, I figured out the puzzle! But in reality, there are certain formulas used in writing fiction that make you think that.
2. Admittedly, the second type is still sort of imposed by the narrator of the tale, but what I enjoy is when a story prompts you to think, but the answer is out of reach or open-ended.
Most people hate the latter. But according to scholars from the University of Toronto found most readers have less need for what they call "cognitive closure." This means then don't sweat over seeking an answer that would provide undeniable certainty. The multitude of answers will do.
Basically, this group handed out well-written fiction and nonfiction to the participants of the study. You can read more about the study in detail here. There were a few tests given out that had the participants write what they did and didn't like about the work they just read. Fiction readers scored lower on the test, but empathized how they didn't need to have everything written in stone, they welcomed many possible answers, and begged for "more comfort with ambiguity."
"This double release—of thinking through events without concerns for urgency and permanence, and thinking in ways that are different than one’s own—may produce effects of opening the mind.”
In the end, the study revealed reading fiction can ultimately change your "cognitive habits." Fiction readers were open to more suggestions and more worldviews. Certainty was not necessary for them. The more ambiguity the better.
I guess in the end, I find this study rather interesting. If you read some literature to day, maybe you might start making awesome decisions. Or maybe you'll just fall into the depths of a good tale.
And for me, I guess I don't have to feel as uncomfortable with the ambiguity in such stories as "Sleep."
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.