mind lit


Image by Karel Jules Hugo Waignein via Wikimedia Commons

Hard to look away, isn’t it?

This adorable little Jane’s portrait, artfully rendered, sends our brains reeling—what’s her story?

The gaudy floral hat and bright face paint belie the wistfulness of her eyes—what’s going on in there?

As it turns out, your interpretation of her facial expression may be linked to the books you read.

Curious? Read on …

A 2013 study, published by researchers from The New School for Social Research in New York City, found that the ability to identify the emotions of others correlates with a reader’s literary choices.


Photo courtesy of the National Media Museum via Wikimedia Commons

“Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” the study’s abstract begins. “Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind.”

The study’s 1,000 participants were divided into two groups: one read literary fiction (like Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife), and the other read popular fiction (think Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl). After reading, all were asked to identify someone’s emotions using facial cues. Those who read literary fiction scored consistently higher by about 10 percent.


“We believe that one critical difference between lit and pop fiction is the extent to which the characters are complex, ambiguous, difficult to get to know, etc. (in other words, human) versus stereotyped, simple,” Emanuele Castano, one of the researchers, explained to Mic.com.

So … having trouble understanding the feelings of your coworkers, or maybe even your spouse?

Try tackling Chekhov in your spare time.


Why did the chicken cross the …

world?? Yes, you read that right.

Chickens are not only the oldest domesticated animal on Earth, they’re also the animal that has been most crucial to the spread of civilization across the globe, according to science writer Andrew Lawler, author of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization.


The humble chicken … “Queen Victoria was obsessed with it. Socrates’ last words were about it. Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur made their scientific breakthroughs using it. Catholic popes, African shamans, Chinese philosophers, and Muslim mystics praised it. Throughout the history of civilization, humans have embraced it in every form imaginable—as a messenger of the gods, powerful sex symbol, gambling aid, emblem of resurrection, all-purpose medicine, handy research tool, inspiration for bravery, epitome of evil, and, of course, as the star of the world’s most famous joke,” says Lawler.

In Why Did the Chicken Cross the World (Atria Books, December 2014, $20), Lawler takes us on an adventure from prehistory to the modern era with a fascinating account of the partnership between human and chicken (the most successful of all cross-species relationships).

We know that we love our backyard feathered friends (not to mention that they’re now humanity’s single most important source of protein), but did you know about a recent discovery in Montana that links the chicken to an unlikely ancestor … the T. rex? And did you know that there are more chickens alive today than cats, dogs, pigs, cows, and rats—combined? Or that they inhabit every continent on the Earth except for one, where they’re banned? You’ll learn this and much, much more in Lawler’s fascinating book. “The planet’s most populous and edible bird really does open a window on civilization, evolution, capitalism, and ethics. (Reading about it is lots of fun, too.)” says New York Magazine.