Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Brain function is boosted for days after reading a novel

In this fascinating study, researchers found that brain connectivity was increased during and after reading a gripping novel. The interaction between parts of the brain, known as connectivity, is what allows your brain to function. Without connectivity, you would be in a vegetative state. In addition to heightened connectivity, the subjects showed grounded cognition, which is the neural mimicry of physical sensation in the brain, simply by imagining it.  The authors of the study remarked that "reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist."

I would also like to point out that in addition to being transported into the body of the protagonist, people are transported into their minds, specifically their feelings. Emotions are what allow people to store memories and to learn. The implication is that by reading a story expressing vivid emotions, people can enhance their ability to form memories, and to learn from them. Identifying with another person's emotions is an essential step toward developing compassion, as well as self-awareness. 


Source: The Independent, December 28, 2013

By Tomas Jivanda

Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.

The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition - for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

21 students took part in the study, with all participants reading the same book - Pompeii, a 2003 thriller by Robert Harris, which was chosen for its page turning plot.

“The story follows a protagonist, who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano,” said Prof Berns. “It depicts true events in a fictional and dramatic way. It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.”

Over 19 days the students read a portion of the book in the evening then had fMRI scans the following morning. Once the book was finished, their brains were scanned for five days after.

The neurological changes were found to have continued for all the five days after finishing, proving that the impact was not just an immediate reaction but has a lasting influence.

“Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity,” added Prof Berns. “We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.”

Note: You can read the full study HERE

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