'Reading About Cisco' photo (c) 2011, Bruce McKay - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

(Note: This post was not originally a “The Best…” list, but as more and more information on this topic became available, I decided to turn it into one.)

In my book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, I include a chapter on the importance of relationship-building in the classroom — both between teacher and students and between students and other students. One way to reinforce that through literacy development is to have students read both true-life stories (I specifically suggest a piece written about Martin Luther King) and ethnic folktales that reinforce that message.

Two new studies suggest that I might have been on to something….

Becoming a vampire without being bitten: A new study shows that reading expands our self-concepts is a report on one study that had participants read either Harry Potter or Twilight. Results showed that:

Harry Potter readers “became” wizards and the Twilight readers “became” vampires. In addition, participants who were more group-oriented in life showed the largest assimilation effects. Finally, “belonging” to these fictional communities delivered the same mood and life satisfaction people get from affiliation with real-life groups.

And, today, a Wall Street Journal article titled Contagiously Stupid Characters explained that:

College students who read a brief screenplay about a moronic soccer hooligan subsequently did worse on a test of knowledge than a control group.

The article quote a researcher as saying:

“The present study is, to our knowledge, the first to show media priming effects of story characters on cognitive performance,”

Here’s another study:

Inspiring Stories Can Lead to Empathy is a report on a study that “found that the participants often would spontaneously reflect on their own lives and express a desire to be better people after hearing stories meant to induce admiration for virtue or compassion for social or psychological pain.”

Books Don’t Take You Anywhere is a satirical article from The Onion that is somewhat related to this topic.

In The Minds Of Others: Reading fiction can strengthen your social ties and even change your personality is the title of a Scientific American article. It discusses the effect that empathy can have on readers. You can only read the beginning of the article for free, and have a pay a few dollars to gain access to the entire piece. I think it’s worth it. Here’s how it sums up the research conclusions:

1. Reading stories can fine-tune your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings.

2. Entering imagined worlds builds empathy and improves your ability to take another person’s point of view.

3. A love affair with narrative may gradually alter your personality—in some cases, making you more open to new experiences and more socially aware.

10 Novels That Will Sharpen Your Mind [Interactive]:And boost your social skills to boot is from Scientific American and builds upon previous studies I’ve shared here.

Changing our Minds discusses a study and other ideas that suggest “fiction helps us understand ourselves and others.”

The Business Case for Reading Novels is from The Harvard Business Review. It reviews research on the role of reading fiction in helping people develop empathy.

Your Brain on Fiction is from The New York Times.

Why fiction is good for you is from The Boston Globe.

If We Are What We Read, Who Are We, Exactly? is from The Atlantic.

You are what you read, study suggests is from MSNBC.

Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters is from Medical Daily.

Readers build vivid mental simulations of narrative situations, brain scans suggest
is from Phys.org.

You might also be interested in other posts I’ve written about priming.

How Good Books Can Change You is from The Atlantic.


Wrapped up in a Book: The Role of Emotional Engagement in Reading is form PLOS blogs.

Study: “How Stories Get Into Your Brain”

How Reading Transforms Us
is a New York Times article about some recent research. Here’s an excerpt:

“…we measured our participants’ personality traits and emotions before and after reading. We had expected that people who read a piece of fiction would experience the greatest fluctuation in their personality scores, but we didn’t find this. The genre of the text — fiction or nonfiction — didn’t matter much; what mattered was the degree of perceived artistry. Those who read a story or essay that they judged to be artistic changed their personality scores significantly more than did those who judged what they read to be less artistic.”

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction is from Mic.

In addition, you might want to check-out My Best Posts On Books: Why They’re Important & How To Help Students Select, Read, Write & Discuss Them.