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Reading Novels Can Change Our Brains, Study Says

Reading Novels Can Change Our Brains, Study Says

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?

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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.

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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

image

    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.

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    The Conclusion

    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.

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    Sarah Bonander

    Writer, Human Resources Professional

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

    5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

    Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

    All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

    The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

    “Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

    The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

    “The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

    The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

    “The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

    So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

      Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

      1. Build a Memory Palace

        What is it?

        The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

        How to use it?

        Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

        “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

        Example

        An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

        • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
        • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
        • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
        • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
        • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

        You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

        2. Mnemonic

          What is it?

          A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

          How to use it?

          Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

          Example

          I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

          I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

          Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

          Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

          Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

          Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

          C

          J

          H

          D

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          P

          Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

          Cubs

          Just

          Hate

          Doing

          Push-ups

          Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

          3. Mnemonic Peg System

            What is it?

            According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

            How to use it?

            The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

            Example

            Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

            0 = hero

            1 = gun

            2 = shoe

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            3 = tree

            4 = door

            5 = hive

            6 = sticks

            7 = heaven

            8 = gate

            9 = line

            Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

            4. Chunking

              What is it?

              Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

              How to use it?

              In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

              Example

              Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

              Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

              081127882

              Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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              081 – 127 – 882

              Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

              “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

              5. Transfer of Learning

                What is it?

                Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

                “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

                How to use it?

                There are two specific ways to use it:

                1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
                2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

                Example

                I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

                Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

                The Bottom Line

                The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

                We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

                Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

                “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

                More About Enhancing Memories

                Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

                Reference

                [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
                [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
                [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
                [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
                [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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