The desire to escape the soul-crushing realities of your daily grind, or, say, the inexplicable successes of your less-talented friends, has powered a market for fantasy from Peter Pan to Frodo Baggins to Harry Potter. But the genre doesn't just provide an escape from life's unpleasantries — delving into the world of fantasy world may come with a number of actual real-world benefits.
According to an article in the March issue of Scientific American, a growing body of research is suggesting that teaching children through play and fantasy might in some cases be more effective than traditional education.
In one study, Deena Weisberg at the University of Pennsylvania's psychology department divided preschoolers into two groups. The first group listened to stories based in reality about topics like agriculture and cooking while the second heard tales of fantasy.
"Both groups learned the new words that we taught," Weisberg wrote in Scientific American. "But kids who heard the fantastical stories were better able to tell researchers about the meanings of the new words than those who had heard realistic tales, showing important growth in their productive vocabulary."
According to Weisberg, the positive finding was backed up in other studies too, which found that appealing to our fantastical side can increase attentiveness and our natural sense of curiosity.
These results, Weisberg continued, imply that "unrealistic scenarios help children see the possibilities inherent in reality."
So flaunt that cape and brandish that wand. You might be better for it.