Study: Reading literature makes us better thinkers.

by Todd Foley

I stumbled across a fascinating study today, claiming that reading literature helps encourage creativity and “sophisticated thinking” due to fostering a growing comfortableness with ambiguity. Here’s the heart of the findings:

“Are you uncomfortable with ambiguity? It’s a common condition, but a highly problematic one. The compulsion to quell that unease can inspire snap judgments, rigid thinking, and bad decision-making.

Fortunately, new research suggests a simple anecdote for this affliction: Read more literary fiction.

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.”

I find this interesting for a couple reasons:

  1. I am a results-driven individual who hates the unknown. I love closure and want solid answers. Enough said.
  2. The more I know, the less I know – and I’m okay with that. When I read stories of characters who wrestle with uncertainty, I find that their struggles normalize my own circumstances – no matter how drastic the contrast may be between our circumstances. It reminds me that it’s okay to not know how a circumstance will turn out, no matter how much problem-solving energy I exert. That in itself is incredibly liberating.

I found this to be very true when I finished writing Eastbound Sailing. Normally, I wouldn’t think to create such a conclusion to a story, but it made me realize that any story we read, hear or see isn’t the entire story; it’s merely a snapshot of the larger narrative, which we don’t always get to see or understand. This all will make more sense if you read the article in its entirety (see the link above).

What are your thoughts? Do you gain greater insight from reading literature, or from argument-driven essays? Or is it a balance for you?