Did you ever notice how some of the smartest people you know are readers? They seem to be well-spoken, cultured, and eloquent. Not only that, but they also seem to have good imaginations to go with it. I have noticed this, and have always wondered if there was a connection between these traits and their hobby of reading.
Writing a novel can be a long, complicated, and daunting process. On the other side of the coin as a reader, what does reading a novel with a story of highs and lows do to your brain? Do your brain connections stay flat and consistent? Or do they change? And if they do change, how does it affect you? And how long are they there for?
Researchers performed an fMRI on the participants
Based on a study done by Emory University, research shows that reading novels can make changes to the brain. For this research, the researchers asked 21 students to read 1/9 part of the novel, Pompeii by Robert Harris each night for 9 consecutive days. For the 9 consecutive mornings following the nights of reading the novel, the researchers performed an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) on the participants in a resting state. The researchers did the fMRIs for the full 9 consecutive days, as well as on the 5 days preceding the start of the 9 days and the 5 days after it, which made it a total of 19 days of testing.
Increases in brain connectivity were observed
Interestingly, the morning fMRIs showed increases in brain connectivity. These connections increased significantly on story days, with some of the highest arousal levels of brain activity happening during the climaxes of the story. Some of these brain connections stayed on with the reader as exhibited by the 5 days of fMRIs right after the participants finished reading the novel, and some disappeared after they have finished reading the novel. The short-term changes originated close to the left angular gylus and the long-term changes in the somatosensory cortex. The researchers interpreted the short-term changes originating from the left angular gylus of the brain to be related to perspective taking and story comprehension, which suggests that reading stories may strengthen the language processing regions of the brain.
On the other hand, they have interpreted the long-term changes to be connected to embodied semantics, which happens when our brain provides motor representations to words. An example would be how thinking of “walking” provides you with the same brain activity as you would have when you are actually physically walking.
How it works
This second set of results makes sense because I remember that when I was a young girl reading young adult novels, I always felt like I was one of the characters. I felt like I was physically moving along with them throughout the story, even if I was only reading the words in a book. After reading the novel, that heightened movement in my brain probably stayed and provided me with more brain action because I felt like I was able to transfer this increased brain activity to other activities in my daily life. I felt like I became more imaginative and creative. Just how valid my experience was, I can’t tell. But it seems to agree with what the researchers found out.
Ultimately, the results of the research suggested that yes, reading novels changes your brain. The researchers were, however, unsure of how long these effects last. If you don’t like to read novels, maybe the results of this research can encourage you to start reading.
Novels do transport you to another world you have never been to, broadens your imagination, provides entertainment and makes a good topic for a conversation. And if you do already love reading, keep reading. Like they say, there is nothing better than reading a good book.