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!



The Evolution of Disease in a Rapidly Changing World

Joy Henry is a blogger for An Apple A Day and a writer specializing in online nursing degrees for Guide to Healthcare Schools.

As humans evolve and the world they live in changes, the types and prevalence of disease they get changes as well. And while both environment and genes can be responsible for different diseases, a new study is shedding light on the crossroads between them. New research out of Stanford Medical School shows that as humans’ environments change quickly and drastically (which often happens), genes can become selected which simultaneously make them more fit and more susceptible to a certain disease. The old Darwinian mantra of positive benefit, positive selection becomes complicated when environment changes at an unprecedented pace. Read more of this post

A landmark study – Effectiveness and Safety of Tenofovir Gel, an Antiretroviral Microbicide, for the Prevention of HIV Infection in Women

In what is being hailed as a landmark study, researchers running a trial in South Africa to test a vaginal microbicide with the antiretroviral (ARV) drug called tenofovir found that it significantly reduced women’s risk of becoming infected with HIV by 39 per cent compared with placebo.

Dr Quarraisha Abdool Karim and her husband Dr Salim S. Abdool Karim, announced the results of the CAPRISA 004 trial at the start of the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010), which takes place in Vienna this week. They also co-authored a paper on the trial that was published online on 19 July in the journal Science.

The Abdool Karims split their time between CAPRISA (Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa) and the Mailman School of Public Health in Columbia University, New York.

The successful result has the potential to alter the course of the HIV epidemic and save millions of lives, Quarraisha Abdool Karim said at a news conference reported by WebMD. Read more of this post

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