sanguinemare

September 21, 2013

Turning back the hidden curriculum, how reading novels improves your brain, and one of the keys to happiness

In the medical profession, people talk a lot about the “hidden curriculum”, which is the message that we as medical students get indirectly from peers, faculty, residents, and other higher-ups in the hierarchy chain.  This can be anything to lecturers casually slipping in jokes about how everyone in the profession drinks to things like how being a primary care physician is both too easy and too hard to do well (that is in itself another discussion).  But one thing that also trickles down is the unspoken expectation that doctors need to be “professional,” which sometimes may seem synonymous with “emotionless,” which over time translates to jaded physicians.  This is something I sometimes worry will happen to me when I come back from my PhD based on stories from friends, and something that I actively want to fight, even during my PhD.  That’s why what this article in the NY Times is talking about, as well as the Healer’s Art course mentioned in it, is something I strongly agree with.  I think this is a dialogue that should always be kept open among students and faculty alike.  Healing is not merely about the healing the physical body, but also the mind and soul as well.

Here’s another interesting article about how reading something affects your brain, and helps your brain process information in a similar way as if you were actually experiencing the action physically.  I also like this paragraph, as it somewhat justifies my love of fiction hehe 😛 (and also supports my belief that children should not be allowed to watch TV all day, especially at a young age): “Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television.”  Of course there’s always the argument that fMRI’s are not that great of a way to determine what’s actually going on, as it’s mostly correlation and depends heavily on interpretation, but still an interesting thought nonetheless.

And lastly, here is a fun, touching experiment that helps validate a scientific study that one of the things we can do that is a key contributor to happiness is expressing gratitude.

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