Read Fiction and Give the Devices a Rest

An articulate and thoughtful message from SMC's Head of English, Anthony Phillips. He advocates the reading of fiction for students for neural and social development.

We’re fortunate to have a strong reading culture at Santa Maria College. A few students – because it is just a few – may tire of The English Department singing what they may feel is an old tired tune: read, read, read. Don’t they know how busy students are? Why don’t they get with the times? The future is multi-modal. The future is high tech. The future consists of the pings and beeps of digital technology…

Although the culture of reading fiction faces the challenge of combatting bitesize bits of information both on the net and under the broader social media barrage, science has come to our rescue, not just any old science: it’s neuroscience. Numerous studies have revealed that chess and reading are the two largest stimulators of our grey matter.

But it isn’t simply reading – it’s reading fiction.

Figurative Meaning and Emotional Connections

Brain scans have revealed that figurative language (and metaphors in general), detailed imagery, emotional connection and exchanges between characters – the very lifeblood of fiction –  all stimulate the brain.

The reason why fiction is vital is that the brain works harder than when reading nonfiction. Readers of fiction not only form images out of words but also have to be able to decode figurative language and make inferential readings.

Readers also learn more about what it means to be human in the process. Readers develop an understanding of the intricacies of relationships, human desires and motives, our challenges and drives.  In essence, reading fiction is a higher order function, and without realising it, it improves brain functioning.


This is also a key to fiction. Students and the contemporary world are now becoming habituated to reading snack size bits of information. Articles and blog posts on the net often have a strong visual element. The length of written text is also purposefully limited so that readers are able to move on to the next bite-sized package of info.

Fiction helps not only defend against waning concentration levels but also supports improving these levels.

We can aid our children by encouraging them to put their electronic devices and other distractors away during the evening – and read fiction instead.

Building Reading

At school, a Santa Maria student benefits from pursuing different fiction genre and writers, and discovering what they prefer.  A parent or guardian has the unique position to help their daughter find a genre they like. A parent may assist their daughter pursue other works too. Reading is entertaining, but like anything that helps the mind, it can occasionally be challenging too.

So let’s put the devices away for a time and feed the brain some nutritious reading. The payoff, in the long run, will be well worth it.

Anthony Phillips – Head of English

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