Your Brain on Books: Studies Show Reading Causes Measurable Changes in the Brain

It turns out your brain on books might look a lot better, or at least more connected, than your brain not on books. A number of recent studies have found that reading can cause significant quantifiable changes in brains.

A study from Emory University looked at specifically how reading increased connectivity in particular networks in the brain. The study scanned 19 participants’ brains over 19 days: before, during, and after they read 1/9 of the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris. The scans done during the time that the participants were reading the novel show significantly more connectivity in three independent networks in the brain.

Two of these networks almost immediately showed less activity once the reading was finished. The third network however continued to show connectivity, demonstrating reading’s lasting impact on the brain.

But Emory isn’t the only one figuring out how reading changes the brain. Carnegie Mellon scientists created a six-month daily reading program where they scanned participants’ brains before and after. The participants’ grey matter, the region of the brain that processes information, increased dramatically from before and after the six month reading program. The more you read, the easier it may be for your brain to process information and understand the world around you.

Further down South, Washington University in St. Louis also used brain scans to figure out how reading can affect the way we think. Their studies found that the kind of “deep reading” that can sometimes happen when we lose ourselves in a book can actually make new neural pathways in our brains. We create a mental synthesis of our experiences with the protagonists’ and put ourselves in his shoes while reading. For example, when we read about a character moving between places the part of our brain that is associated with spatial scenes is activated. We see ourselves moving between places with the character.

That reading can be transformative seems intuitive. But that its transformative powers are now quantifiable seems almost like a work of science fiction, one that I’d love to read. Just like the body needs be exercised and stretched, so too does the brain…. Another excuse to curl up with some strong coffee and a big new book!

Links:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091209121200.htm

http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/13325.aspx

http://news.emory.edu/stories/2013/12/esc_novels_change_brain/campus.html

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