Reading fiction may improve your brain function.
Reading novels is passé. On the internet vast amounts of information are available and therefore people read mostly online nowadays; internet pages, Facebook and emails. As a result bookshops and publishers go bankrupt and public libraries close. Is this a bad thing?
Based on an earlier article on this website we can say it is. In that particular study the researchers found a relation between reading literary fiction and the ability to identify and understand other’s subjective states, also known as Theory of Mind.
A new study goes a bit further and checks whether reading fiction has effects on the structure and function of the brain; how stories get into the brain and what they do to it. Let’s see what this research tells us about the importance of reading novels.
A group of 21 undergraduate students were asked to read the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris. Before the reading, baseline data were taken for each participant for 5 days while they rested. For the next 9 days, participants read 1/9th of the novel during the evening and resting-state data were taken the next morning. Finally, resting-state data were taken for 5 days after the conclusion of the novel. The researchers looked at the short- and long term effects of reading on the brain.
Get smart and more compassionate
The mornings after the reading the scans revealed intensified connectivity within the students’ brains. This enhanced connectivity was seen in areas that are associated with language comprehension and perspective taking. These short term effects on the brain indicate that by reading fiction you are better able to communicate and understand others, at least shortly after you read a book.
Then what about the long term changes in the brain? The days after finishing the book, increased connectivity was observed in areas that control movement of body parts, receiving sensory input from those parts of the body. This finding made the researchers think of a mechanism called “embodied cognition”, tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is actually not. For example, when you think about playing tennis you activate neurons linked with the physical act of playing tennis. These neural changes suggest that reading a novel mentally places the reader in the body of the protagonist.
So it seems that also neuroscientists confirm the importance of reading literature; people become linguistically smarter and more compassionate. Well then, let’s hope that reading novels comes back in fashion!
Photo: Flickr, Brendan Murphy
Gregory S. Berns, Kristina Blaine, Michael J. Prietula, and Brandon E. Pye (2013). Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel
on Connectivity in the Brain BRAIN CONNECTIVITY DOI: 10.1089/brain.2013.0166
reading, novels, fiction, neuroscience, compassion, embodied cognition
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