The sociopath in fiction is an amoral serial killer. A monster in human form without feeling or emotion. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho comes to mind. Or every other Stephen King villain. The reality of the sociopath is that they comprise four percent of the population, and most of them live among us, without murdering anyone.
In a discussion withPublishers Weekly, debut author Carola Lovering discusses what she learned about sociopaths for her debut novel, Tell Me Lies.
Tell Me Lies follows a young college woman who becomes enthralled by a charming albeit manipulative womanizer with sociopathic tendencies.
I quickly learned that a sociopath is a person with a mental health disorder called Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), and that the profile of a serial killer is only at one far, rare end of the sociopathic spectrum. On the opposite end and in between, there are varying degrees of sociopathy, some hardly traceable, many easily masked. And more disturbingly, I discovered that sociopaths are startlingly common, and that the possibility I’d dated one or two was not so farfetched.
What characterizes all sociopathy, regardless of where it lies on the spectrum, is a common trait: sociopaths do not experience guilt or remorse.
The vast majority of sociopaths are men, the statistics claim that the male to female ratio could be something like 20:1. Lovering herself dated a person who could very well have been one, and the odds are good that at least some of us have encountered individuals with sociopathy in our lives.
In writing the sections of her novel from the sociopathic character’s point of view, Lovering was able to see life through his eyes. It’s a testament to the power of the written word that even with such a diffident mental state, it’s still possible to step into somebody else’s shoes and see the world from their point of view, if only for a short while. Considering another person’s perspective is something that all of us can always use practice in, even if you are not a sociopath.
Being a bookworm is the best thing you can do for yourself. What fuels me to say that? A recent study from the Department of Communication at University at Buffalo (UB) proved that “getting lost in books” has unexpectedly powerful advantages to our mental growth, sense of belonging, social skills, longevity, and mood management.
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According to NBC News BETTER, Professor Melanie Green at UB, has conducted a research into “reading as transportation” and what makes it possible to “get lost in books:”
One of the benefits to reading fiction is simply that it provides enjoyment and pleasure…It can provide an escape from boredom or stress…Stories allow us to feel connected with others and part of something bigger than ourselves.
To what extent can we say we are being transported or getting lost in books? Green indicates that it happens if we’re reading a high-quality text, and “quality” in this case depends on the reader. No matter if it’s a quick-moving plot, engagingly poetic writing, a romance, or a thriller, if we are really into the world of the text, we are being “transported” by which we not only absorb the contents written in the book but also give ourselves the following presents:
WE BECOME THE TYPE OF PEOPLE WE WANT TO BE
According to Keith Oatley, professor in the department of applied psychology and human development at University of Toronto, when we read a story, we “give up some of our own habits and thoughts, and we take our own idea of being a different person in circumstances that we might other wise never had been in.”
Oatley has also conducted a test in which two group of people reading two pieces of writing. One is a fictional composition and the other is a non-fictional report on the first. The result reveals that the participants who read the first-hand story show higher levels of emotion than the other group.
Though this result has no power to say which reading taste is good, Oatley’s effort indeed shows that one can become empathetic and understanding by reading stories about other people:
It is very important in the social world to understand others, to understand ourselves, and not just get stuck.
PRESENT #2: WE GET A SENSE OF BELONGING
Researchers found that “reading satisfies the need for human connection because it can mimic what we feel during real social interactions.” Please don’t think that because Harry Potter or Twilight are fictional and or unreal that you should not spend much time on them. The professor proved that becoming part of the world created by books helps generate the same feeling and connection when we interact with the real people. According to Shira Gabriel, professor of psychology at UB, “Anytime we feel connected to others, we feel good in general and feel good about our lives.” Here, the “others” contains both the real and fictional one.
PRESENT #3: READING CULTIVATES SOCIAL SKILLS
This finding is amazing. Oatley explains that reading books helps us to develop our social skills in a way that we, by understanding the characters, become more sensitive. Also, neuroscientists proved that part of our brain will be used when we show empathy to a fictional character, the effect of which is the same as when we deal with a real person. Oatley says: Fiction is the mind’s flight simulator.
PRESENT #4: READING HELPS US LIVE LONGER
Wait, what? Really? Neuroscientists have proved that reading not only can broaden our vocabulary but also decrease the chance of cognitive disorders. “Reading, by engaging the brain, may keep the brain active enough to prevent cognitive decline that is associated with a variety of diseases associated with earlier mortality,” said Avni Bavishi, an MD candidate at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Just like we work out our muscles to get strong and healthy. When we intensely read, we not only train our mind muscles into a more intellectual shape but also our cerebral muscles into a self-defensive situation.
PRESENT #5: GETTING LOST IN BOOKS GIVE YOU FREEDOM
We all know that. Sometimes we treat reading books as a way of escape, which is not a coward thing but an good and effective method of dealing with our stress. If you feel as if you’re running out of the battery, grab a book and get lost. It’s always to good to take a rest and getting lost in books will not hurt you.
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I know it’s a cliche that reading helps you grow － but see? Reading makes us think and feel in new and different ways and is proved to be the best thing ever!
Note: this article is a basic summary of NBC News BETTER‘s article. Please go to the original for more first-hand info.
The research committee taught 30 adult women, from two villages in India, how to read. Participants went under functional magnetic resonance imaging scans to study brain functions before and after learning to read the Devanagari alphabet. Over the course of six months, they learned letters, then monosyllabic words, and eventually left the program with the ability to read and write at a first-grade level.
When studying the brain scans, scientists expected to find minor changes in only the brain cortex, a part of the brain that adapts quickly to new challenges. Instead, they found that the positive results went even deeper. “We observed that the learning process leads to a reorganization that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem,” they said. Learning to read and write specifically enhanced a part of the brainstem called the superior colliculus, as well as the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, which “adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex.”
Basically: the brain function that helps filter and absorbs useful information develops as the reader becomes more and more proficient in reading.
This study not only showed how adaptable the human brain is even when in your 30’s or 40’s, but also how the effect of reading can cause your brain to fine tune itself as the new learner becomes better at reading.
Seeing how reading affects different parts of the brain also changes how we perceive issues relating to reading. Dyslexia was always believed to be a disorder of the thalamus. This new research shows that it could be that their visual cortex issue or “a disruption of the underlying neural pathway connecting the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus with V5.” Hopefully, this will inspire better treatment as we have a better idea of which part of the brain causes dyslexia.
So, keep reading and help your brain become stronger!