There’s No Substitute for Fiction


What do Peskin and Astington recommend for fostering constructive learning? Reading fiction. “Dramatic tension in stories is created when the various characters have disparate knowledge with regard to the action. This may be through error: The reader knows that Romeo does not know that Juliet lies drugged, not dead. Or it may be through deception: Pretending his assigned chore is an adventure, Tom Sawyer tricks his friends into whitewashing the fence.”

Here cognitive science joins forces with literary theory. Peskin and Astington’s research goes to the heart of the old intuition that reading fiction is “good for you,” defining “good” now specifically in terms of stronger academic performance across the board.

It turns out that informational texts don’t come close to containing the kind of metacognitive complexity so essential to fiction that we don’t even notice it. Consider these two inextricable features of fiction. It always functions on a higher level of metacognitive complexity than nonfiction, and it can achieve that higher level without explicit use of metacognitive vocabulary. —There’s No Substitute for Fiction