Is Reading Fiction A Waste Of Time? Here’s What Research Suggests

A girl holding a book thinking 'Is reading fiction a waste of time?'

Over the last few years, I have read over hundreds of books, the majority of which are fiction. And I have experienced the amazing improvements and changes that these books have brought into my life. So, for me, it is really sad to see people even discussing on topics like ‘is reading fiction a waste of time?’ or ‘should we give up reading fiction books?’ and so on.

And I’m sure that I’m not the only one who thinks and feels this way. A survey from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009 found that 87% of the book readers choose to read fiction! So, are those 87% of the readers wasting their time?

Well… I don’t think so!

Reading fiction is not a waste of time. It’s true that we learn things differently from fiction than that from non-fiction books. But, nevertheless, there are many great life-lessons that one can learn from reading fiction alone. It’s just that not everyone comprehends the amazing benefits that reading fiction can bestow upon us!

However, it is also true that not every fiction book is good to read. Don’t read any book just for the sake of reading and having fun or just to increase the number of books you have read. There are many fiction books that are downright trash. They will do more harm than benefit to you.

But again, same is true for some non-fiction books as well. So, first, learn to choose good books to read. Read reviews of the books in Goodreads, Amazon, and other trusted websites and blogs before you actually read them.

Here’s What Some Research Suggests

A cartoon man pointing a stick towards a brain

Many types of research have been conducted to study the impacts of reading fiction on the brain. Here are some of the important ones:

  • Research at The New School in New York City has found evidence that reading literary fiction improves empathy. It improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.
  • An article, ‘Your Brain on Fiction’, published in The New York Times in March 2012 states many studies to show how reading fiction impacts our brain. Brain scans done during this research are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, a metaphor, or an emotional exchange between characters; all of which are an integral part of fiction books. The research suggests that stories stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life. You can read more about this research from here.
  • According to a Research by the University of Sussex reading for even six minutes can reduce your stress levels by as high as 68 percent! Psychologists believe that this is probably because when we are lost in a book, our mind is focused on reading and that little distraction from the real world and our problems into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and heart.
  • Another research by Yale University School of Public Health states that “reading books for an average of 30 min per day–say, a chapter a day–showed a survival advantage, compared to those who did not read books” In other words, it increases our lifespan. The researchers also said, “Considering that 87% of book readers read fiction (National Endowment for the Arts, 2009), it is likely that most of the book readers in our study were reading fiction.” The researchers observed that there was a 20% reduction in mortality for those who read books, compared to those who did not. Further, their analysis also demonstrated that any level of book reading gave a significantly stronger survival advantage than reading periodicals (Newspapers, magazines, etc.)

Benefits of Reading Fiction

The researches mentioned above are just a few of the many types of research that have proved the amazing benefits of reading fiction books.

People often misjudge fiction books because their benefits are not always obvious, whereas most of the non-fiction books have some direct implications and importance that looks vividly clear. It is difficult to properly quantify the benefits of fiction, which is another reason why not everyone sees value in it.

But, just because we don’t see the benefits directly, it does not mean that fiction books don’t hold any importance. Fiction is just as important a genre as nonfiction books.

Here are 10 important benefits to support the fact that reading fiction is not a waste of time:

1. Fiction is a uniquely powerful way to understand others

Reading fiction creates new perspectives and helps people to empathize with others. Individuals who often read fiction are better able to understand other people and view the world from their perspective. Besides, people who read fiction have an increased amount of emotional intelligence.

2. It broadens your imagination and enhances your creativity

A Girl And Her Imagination

Fiction can make you imagine things beyond possibility – things that would not come to your mind normally. If you are reading a book that has its plot in a magical world where animals can speak, humans can fly, or trees can walk, you don’t just read it, you imagine it!

And that can really be very helpful in broadening your imagination. Besides, the different creative plots, characters, and approaches boost your creative thinking as well.

3. It improves your memory

There are a lot of things that we need to remember while reading fiction. Name of the characters and their features, name of the places, plots and sub-plots, the sequence of events, important conversations etc. are some of the key information we need to keep in mind.

And the ability to retain these information keeps improving with the number of books that you read. As your brain learns to remember the information from the story-line, it also becomes better at remembering other things of your life

4. A child will get into reading habit more easily with fiction

Little Girl Reading 'Beauty and the Beast'

If you ask a child to read a history book, how much do you think will it interest him/her?

Children often opt for fiction books when they learn to read. Fiction with an interesting story can easily capture children’s attention. This indirectly helps them to build and expand their vocabulary and improve reading speed while enjoying an interesting story.

Many of those stories even convey moral lessons which are very important to shape a child’s thinking.

5. Fiction helps you comprehend other, more difficult texts

People who read fiction have a richer vocabulary and are able to read fluently. The conversations in the books also help you strengthen your command over the language.

Your sentence formation becomes quick, better and qualitative. You rarely get stuck for lack of words. Once you have a richer vocabulary and controlled command over the language, comprehending other difficult texts and information becomes easier.

6. Reading fiction enhances our critical thinking ability

While reading, a lot of information is being processed in our brain simultaneously. It opens up many different perspectives for your brain to comprehend.

For example: If you are reading a mystery or a suspense book, your brain constantly tries to guess certain outcomes and events. It also has to relate one event to the other to make sense in the story. All this, in turn, sharpens our mind and enhances our critical and analytical thinking skills.

7. Reading fiction improves brain function

A pictorial representation of brain-network

Reading fiction can significantly improve our brain functions! Research from Emory University in Atlanta Georgia suggests that reading a powerful work of fiction can make neural changes in your brain thereby improving your brain functions!

The changes occur in the ‘resting-state’ of the brain and can last for days. Reading fiction can also strengthen language processing and helps move information into long-term memory.

8. Reading fiction helps us accept change more readily

The science-fiction books, especially those that portray future technologies and advancements, help people understand that things change and that you can live through it.

Change is all around us. Probably things change faster now than they did centuries years ago. In such scenarios, it is always better to be prepared for the change and in some way science-fiction help us do that well!

9. Reading fiction can improve your social-cognitive abilities

A recent Research in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University has suggested that reading fiction can improve individuals’ social-cognitive abilities.

Findings from neuroscience show that reading and social cognition both recruit the default network, a network which is known to support our capacity to simulate hypothetical scenes, spaces, and mental states.

The current research tests the hypothesis that fiction reading enhances social cognition because it serves to exercise the default sub-network involved in theory of mind. (Social cognition is a sub-topic of social psychology that focuses on how people process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations)

10. It gives us joy and happiness

Kid Reading a Book and Laughing

Finally, and most importantly, reading is a joy. It simply makes you feel happy and pleased and brings peace to your mind – something that even the most luxurious items might not provide you.

So, if you really love reading fiction books, you shouldn’t care what other people think of it. Just make sure that you avoid reading trashy fictional books. Other than that, read more and be happy!

These were just some of the amazing benefits of reading fiction. There can be many more obviously. And even after all this, if I’m told that I am wasting my time reading fiction, then yeah, I’m really happy to waste my time. At least I’m happy! And to me, that matters the most!

In the comment section below please share with us what you think. Is reading fiction a waste of time? Tells us about your experiences – good or bad, about reading fiction books. We would love to know!

Happy Reading!

7 thoughts on “Is Reading Fiction A Waste Of Time? Here’s What Research Suggests”

  1. Reading fictions are similar to watching fiction movies. Fiction lets you enter a different life or different world whereby in your monotonous daily working life, you might never get to experience it.
    Fiction lets you understand about different jobs, lives, hobbies, likes, places, love, etc of others. Once your knowledge broadens, you will tend to have different perspectives about what life is about and what you want in your life.
    Life experiences makes one more mature, and to speed up the process, reading is another tool that does that.

  2. Honestly, i love this article. Imagine reading The Hunger games, or the Harry potter’s series or so many out there-which are fabulously interesting and planet and time dimensional transporting. Honestly fiction is the genre!

  3. Thank you so much, I read non fiction as much as I drink water and I find that I am not creative enough. This article was truly helpful, I will look for good fiction books to read going forward.

  4. Thanks for the facts! I had to write some facts down for my essay titled ” Is Reading Fiction a Waste of Time?”

  5. “The science-fiction books, especially those that portray future technologies and advancements, help people understand that things change and that you can live through it.” Well, not really: because what they describe is pure fantasy, the lesson is inherently unmoored from reality and therefore useless. Any guidance will be speculative at best.

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