Reading a Novel Changes Your Brain

by Rachel Baker on February 15, 2014

I kind of feel like this is a no-brainer (maybe the pun was intended), but its good to have validation.

The new study out of Emory University looks at how the brain changes function and structure over the course of reading a novel. Researchers asked 21 Emory undergraduates to come in for fMRIs over 19 days. For the first five days, researchers took baseline fMRIs of the students’ brains. Over the following nine days, participants read 30 pages of the Robert Harris’s novel Pompeii at night and then completed a quiz to ensure they had completed the reading. They underwent fMRIs the next morning. After finishing the novel, participants continued to come in for fMRIs for five more days.

Past studies of the intersection between reading and brain structure have focused on brain activity while reading: Participants would read short stories while researchers took fMRIs of their brains. This study, however, evaluated the possibility of a longer-lasting impact from reading.

The fMRIs after the reading assignments revealed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. Heightened connectivity in other parts of the brain suggested that readers may experience “embodied semantics,” a process in which brain connectivity during a thought-about action mirrors the connectivity that occurs during the actual action. For example, thinking about swimming can trigger the some of the same neural connections as physical swimming.

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