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On cutting “empty brain calories” by reading a book instead of social media


Stop doom­scrolling on social media and read a book (For­tune):

2020 is the year I decid­ed to cut back on emp­ty brain calo­ries. That’s right, I swore off the mind­less junk from social media. Because we are all like­ly to con­duct more and more doom­scrolling as the elec­tion nears and 2020 con­tin­ues its infamy, I urge you to stop ingest­ing dig­i­tal junk, and start read­ing a book.

To say that this has been a stress­ful year is a gross under­state­ment. Much has been writ­ten about how ill-pre­pared we were to con­front the pan­dem­ic and cope with the change and stress it has brought to our lives. Many of us are set­tling into our eighth month of quar­an­tine even as our social and polit­i­cal worlds change. I believe our focus in nav­i­gat­ing the pan­dem­ic may have caused us to miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to wrest con­trol back over our men­tal health.

There has been a lot of dis­cus­sion about how technology—for all its ben­e­fits includ­ing keep­ing us con­nect­ed amid a time of social distancing—played its part in con­tribut­ing to our con­fu­sion with cog­ni­tive over­load and mis­in­for­ma­tion. Starved for time and with lim­it­ed men­tal ener­gy, we are end­less­ly scrolling, con­stant­ly search­ing for ways to fill the micro-moments in our busy lives or dis­tract our­selves from things unfold­ing out­side our doors. Keep read­ing Pad­mas­ree War­rior’s arti­cle over at For­tune.

Related Study:

Read­ing fic­tion and read­ing minds: the role of sim­u­la­tion in the default net­work (Social Cog­ni­tive and Affec­tive Neu­ro­science):

  • Abstract: Research in psy­chol­o­gy has sug­gest­ed that read­ing fic­tion can improve indi­vid­u­als’ social-cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. Find­ings from neu­ro­science show that read­ing and social cog­ni­tion both recruit the default net­work, a net­work which is known to sup­port our capac­i­ty to sim­u­late hypo­thet­i­cal scenes, spaces and men­tal states. The cur­rent research tests the hypoth­e­sis that fic­tion read­ing enhances social cog­ni­tion because it serves to exer­cise the default sub­net­work involved in the­o­ry of mind. While under­go­ing func­tion­al neu­roimag­ing, par­tic­i­pants read lit­er­ary pas­sages that dif­fered along two dimen­sions: (i) vivid vs abstract and (ii) social vs non-social. Analy­ses revealed dis­tinct sub­net­works of the default net­work respond to the two dimen­sions of inter­est: the medi­al tem­po­ral lobe sub­net­work respond­ed pref­er­en­tial­ly to vivid pas­sages, with or with­out social con­tent; the dor­so­me­di­al pre­frontal cor­tex (dmPFC) sub­net­work respond­ed pref­er­en­tial­ly to pas­sages with social and abstract con­tent. Analy­ses also demon­strat­ed that par­tic­i­pants who read fic­tion most often also showed the strongest social cog­ni­tion per­for­mance. Final­ly, medi­a­tion analy­sis showed that activ­i­ty in the dmPFC sub­net­work in response to the social con­tent medi­at­ed this rela­tion, sug­gest­ing that the sim­u­la­tion of social con­tent in fic­tion plays a role in fiction’s abil­i­ty to enhance read­ers’ social cog­ni­tion.

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