Novel ways to boost your brain

2 minute read

Does reading works of fiction improve cognitive skills?

Your Back Page scribbler loves a good novel.

As a child, the family home featured well-stocked bookcases and Saturday afternoon trips to the “big” library in the centre of town remain fondly held memories.

Nostalgia aside, it’s a widely considered maxim that reading fiction is good exercise for the grey matter. But is there actually any empirical evidence that the practice benefits our cognitive abilities?  

Bookworms can rejoice because the short answer is “yes”, according to researchers at Germany’s Maximilian University. The longer answer is, however, “only maybe, because we don’t really know why”.

Publishing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General this month, the boffins outlined their findings from two meta-analyses.

The first analysis looked into the results of a study that measured cognitive function for people who read various types of fiction. The other took data from a longitudinal study that correlated lifelong fiction readership with cognitive outcomes, ranging from abstract thinking and reasoning skills to the ability to empathise with others.

What they found was people who read a lot of fiction have better cognitive skills than those who do not.

The first analysis also suggested that reading fiction was more impactful compared with either doing nothing or watching fiction on a screen than it was measured against reading nonfiction.

“These benefits are small in size across various cognitive skills, but of medium size for verbal and general cognitive abilities, for example, intelligence,” the researchers said.

“Importantly, there is a stronger association between reading fiction and cognitive skills than between reading nonfiction and those skills.

But there’s a catch. As the study authors note: “Whether the benefits are caused by reading fiction or by one or more other variables remains to be determined through future research.”

So, correlation is firmly established. Causation? Not so much.

But we’re not going to worry about all that evidence-based malarkey.

We’re going to curl up on the couch with 600 pages of wondrous literary invention amid the firm belief we’re doing our brain a big favour as an added bonus.   

Send fiction recommendations and non-fictional story tips to

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×