I’d tell you what it is, but I’d rather keep you in suspense. 😉

How Reading Suspense Changes Your BrainPhoto by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Suspense novels carry an undeniable intrigue. Our hearts race and our minds whirr as we race to put all the pieces together. Will our hero escape the forces of evil? Or will they meet an untimely demise? And which characters can you actually trust?

Fiction, in general, is a fantastic way to explore the dangers that surround us every day. From gossip at the watercooler to the less likely but far more dangerous kidnapping in the middle of the night at knife-point, stories help us explore what works— and what doesn’t.

Stories allow us to experience life-threatening circumstances from the comfort of our home. They are THE original simulation game. Plus, they increase our empathy by putting us inside other characters’ heads. Personalities which we may not like suddenly take on a bit more nuance and humanity.

But suspense does all that and more. In fact…

How Reading Suspense Changes Your Brain

In a 2015 study published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS), researchers noticed something intriguing about brain activity surrounding suspenseful reading. Can you guess what it is? 🙂

The areas of the brain which were most active when participants read something they considered to be suspenseful are also tied to:

  • mentalizing (figuring out ourselves and others, finding motives, etc.)
  • predictive inference (Solve that mystery!)
  • and possibly cognitive control

And I was sorely tempted to title this article: Can Suspense Novels Make You Psychic? (I mean the research says predictive!) But that would be a gross oversimplification of what’s going on. None of these results should be particularly surprising to anyone who’s read mystery, thrillers, or suspense novels in the past. Any well-written book in this genre will make us ask the big questions.

Why is this character doing that?

Who is to blame?

Wait, I noticed a detail here. Will this be important in the future?

Hey, I think I know who the killer is!

Sound familiar?

So, while reading suspense novels won’t give you the ability to see forty years into the future, it does exercise those problem-solving muscles. And in a world with 99+ problems, those are some good muscles to have.

PS: Want to know more about reading and the brain? Check out this post.


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