Why You Should Read More Novels

Neuroscientsts find that reading stories can lead to biological changes in the brain.

Bibliophiles are right--a book can change your life. Immersing yourself in a fictional story can lead to changes in brain function for up to five days, according to a recent study published in Brain Connectivity.

Emory University researchers asked student participants to read Pompeii, a historical thriller about a man trying to save the woman he loves from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Over a period of 19 days, the participants came into the lab for fMRI scans of their brain activity. For the first five days, their baseline activity was recorded, then they were assigned to read the novel in sections over the course of nine evenings. In the mornings after they had finished each section, participants showed increased brain connectivity in the left temporal cortex, a region associated with language processing.

The students also showed an increase in connectivity in one of the brain's sensory motor regions. “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,” says neuroscientist Gregory Berns, the study's lead author. “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.”

Like muscle memory, the brain displayed "shadow activity" sparked by reading long after the book had been set down. Though the sample was fairly small--only 21 students, without an independent control group--changes in brain connectivity persisted for hours after the participants finished their reading assignments, and were still salient during fMRI scanning five days after they finished the novel.

So go grab a book. It may boost your brainpower. And if it doesn't, well, at worst, you've finished Harry Potter for the 27th time.

[H/T: The Independent]

[Image: Pentagram]