The Neuroscience of Literature

There is something to be said of great literary classics and what they mean for children. With the upcoming release of the Hobbit, I am reminded of many novels I found fascinating and thought-provoking, others that were fun to read, and still others that were downright boring. That said, I firmly believe that the classics hold a very important key in child development, and the learning of empathy and all things that make us human. When I first read the Hobbit in the ninth grade, a door was opened to a completely different world of imagination and fantasy. I love reading classics because of the beauty in their language, and the nobility of their characters, something that is often times lost in our day-to-day interactions.



At home we follow the Kinza Academy curriculum that places a strong emphasis on classics from a very early age. I wondered about the impact of this on the Jibbers and was pleasantly surprised when at bedtime one night, he asked for the book, “where beds are boats” a line of poetry found in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Garden of Verses.

So when I came across this very interesting article on the impact of reading classical fiction on the brain, I was obviously intrigued.

It is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television. (Dr. Mar has conjectured that because children often watch TV alone, but go to the movies with their parents, they may experience more “parent-children conversations about mental states” when it comes to films.)

Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

What are your thoughts on reading the classics to children?

~ by Omaira on December 13, 2012.

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