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Science Says Reading Fiction Can Boost A Variety Of Brain Functions

Science Says Reading Fiction Can Boost A Variety Of Brain Functions

Many of you probably like staying inside on a cold winters day curled up on your bed with a good fiction book. It is easy to get swept up in the story and be ‘taken away’ to a new place filled with exciting people. But how many of you know that this act of reading may in fact be benefiting you in many different ways and on a variety of levels?

The good feeling and changes in your outlook that a book can elicit.

Gregory Berns, the neuroscientist and leading author of a recent study conducted by Emory University and published in the journal Brain Connectivity, says “Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person”. He continues “We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”

You have probably experienced that good feeling after you have finished reading a book and may have that special book that changed your outlook on life. Now Berns’ study suggests that there is a biological reason for these feelings and experiences.

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Berns’ study found that reading a novel may cause changes in resting-state connectivity of the brain and that these changes in the brain can actually persist for at least a few days after the novel has been finished.

Theory of mind (ToM)

In a study conducted by Pew there were various reasons people gave to support their love of reading. There were people who spoke about personal enrichment and used expressions such as “being able to experience so many times, places, and events.” Others spoke about the enjoyment they experienced when living a “life of the mind”. These ideas refer to the experience of being able to put oneself in the place of the protagonist. 

“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,” says Berns.

One of the advantages of being able to ‘transcend’ one’s self and experience and see the world from the protagonist’s perspective is that it improves theory of mind. Theory of the mind (ToM) is the capacity to attribute mental states such as desires, beliefs, intents and knowledge not only to oneself but also to others so that you can understand perspectives that differ from your own.

Gregory Berns’ study process and findings

The study looked at the lasting neural effects of reading a narrative. There were 21 participants in the study.

For the first five days of the study the subjects were given a base-line fMRI scan of the brains in resting state. The scans were taken in the morning. The participants were then given nine sections of the same novel to read over a nine-day time frame. They were to read the 30 pages in the evening. They were then scanned in the morning every day for nine days. Following this the subjects were then given five more scans, taken in resting states, over a period of five days.

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The results of Bern’s study showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex in the mornings following the reading assignments. The left temporal cortex is the area of the brain that is receptive to language. Berns says that this is almost like a muscle memory. The person’s imagination is ‘flexed’ just like a muscle is flexed when one undergoes a sporting activity.

The central sulcus of the brain; the primary sensory motor region of the brain, also showed heightened connectivity. Neurons found in this part of the brain are linked to making representations of sensations in the body. For example, if one thinks about walking, neurons linked to the physical act of walking can be activated.

Summation

Berns’s finding suggest that when you read a novel you may be putting yourself in the body of the protagonist. This ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is essential part of improving theory of mind.

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The effects of reading are also seen to be lasting, at least for a couple of days. This means that the positive feeling we get after reading a book and the effect a book can have on the way we see and approach life may be grounded in biological science.

Berns concluded, “At a minimum, we can say that reading stories—especially those with strong narrative arcs—reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.”

More by this author

Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on January 26, 2021

Science Says A Glass Of Red Wine Can Replace 1 Hour Exercising

Science Says A Glass Of Red Wine Can Replace 1 Hour Exercising

Are you a red wine drinker? What if I tell you sipping in a glass of wine can equate to an hour of exercise? Yup, it’s tried and tested. A new scientific study has just confirmed this wonderful news. So next time you hold a glass of Merlot, you can brag about one hour of hard workout. Rejoice, drinkers!

What the study found out

“I think resveratrol could help patient populations who want to exercise but are physically incapable. Resveratrol could mimic exercise for the more improve the benefits of the modest amount of exercise that they can do.”

(applauds)

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I’m not saying this, but the study’s principal investigator Jason Dyck who got it published in the Journal of Physiology in May.

In a statement to ScienceDaily, Dyck pointed out that resveratrol is your magic “natural compound” which lavishes you with the same benefits as you would earn from working out in the gym.

And where do you find it? Fruits, nuts and of course, red wine!

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Did I forget to mention Dyck also researched resveratrol can “enhance exercise training and performance”?

There are limits, of course

But, all is not gold as they say. If you’re a lady who likes to flaunt holding a glass of white wine in the club or simply a Chardonnay-lover,you have a bad (sad) news. The “one hour workout” formula only works with red wine, not non red wines. And don’t be mistaken and think you’ve managed 4 to 6 hours of workout sessions if you happen to gulp down a bottle of red wine.

And what can replace the golden lifetime benefits of exercise?Exercise is just as important as you age. Period! But hey, don’t be discouraged; look at the bigger picture here. A glass of red wine is not a bad deal after all!

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The health benefits of red wine

But just how beneficial is the red alcoholic beverage to your body? As we all know red wine is a healthier choice youc an make when boozing.

Let’s hear it from a registered dietitian. Leah Kaufman lists red wine as the “most calorie friendly” alcoholic beverage. Sure, you won’t mind adding up to a mere 100 calories per 5-ounce glass of red wine after you realize it contains antioxidants, lowers risk of heart disease and stroke, reduces risk of diabetes-related diseases, helps avoid formation of blood clots and lowers bad cholesterol level.

Wantmore? Wine could also replace your mouthwash because the flavan-3-ols in red wines can control the “bad bacteria” in your mouth.To add to that list of benefits, moderate wine drinking may be beneficial for your eyes too – a recent study mentions.

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Be aware of the risks, too

Having mentioned all the ‘goods’ about red wine, you cannot underplay the fact that it is still an alcohol, which isn’t the best stuff to pour into your body. What is excessive drinking going to do to your body? Know the risks and you should be a good drinker at the end of the day.

However, you don’t want to discard the red vino from your “right eating”regimen just because it stains your teeth blue. M-o-d-e-r-a-t-i-o-n. Did you read that? That’s the operative word when it comes to booze.

By the way, when chocolate is paired with wine, particularly red, they can bring you some exceptional benefits towards your health.But again, if you tend to go overboard and booze down bottles after bottles, you are up for the negative side of alcohol, and we all know what too much of sweetness (sugar) can do to our body (open invitation to diabetes and heart diseases if you aren’t aware).

Folks, the red grape beverage is certainly a good buy to have a good hour’s worth of cardio, provided you keep the ‘M’ word in mind. Cheers!

Featured photo credit: James Palinsad via flickr.com

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