Latest News: Technology |  Celebrity |  Movies |  Apple |  Cars |  Business |  Sports |  TV Shows |  Geek


Filed under: News


Reading A Novel Could Physically Change Your Brain (But What Does That Mean?)

Reading A Novel Could Physically Change Your Brain (But What Does That Mean?)
Photo Credit: Forbes

It turns out that reading a novel can cause measurable changes in how connected portions of your brain are. That, at least, is a conclusion of a study performed at Emory University, which was published in the journal Brain Connectivity last month.

“Most people can identify books that have made great impressions on them and, subjectively, changed the way they think,” the authors wrote. So they aimed to find out whether that subjective view had any physical correlation in the brain.

They did that by taking 19 study participants and scanning their brains over the course of 19 days. For the first five days, their brains were scanned using fMRI to get a “resting state” of each participants brain. Over the 9 following days, each participant read approximately 1/9 of the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris, and their brains were scanned each day. Then for the next five days following reading, their brains were again scanned. During the five days before and after the experiment, the participants didn’t do anything except the brain scan. (An enlightening or boring 10 days? The study doesn’t say.)

The scans revealed that compared to the days where the participants didn’t read the novel (and presumably, no other novels), the researchers “identified three independent networks that had significant increases in connectivity.” Two of these networks involved brain “regions previously associated with perspective taking and story comprehension.” Those two networks showed a decay in connectivity after the participants were done reading the novel.

The third network highlighted by the study showed connectivity persisted in the five days following the experiment – although whether it would persist further requires further study. This particular brain network may have been activated because, the researchers suggest, “reading a novel invokes neural activity that is associated with bodily sensations,” as this portion of the brain has also been shown to activate while people read metaphors involving the sense of touch.

So what does this actually mean? After all, as Nature editor Noah Gray snarked on Twitter: “Reading a novel induces connectivity changes in the brain … But so does everything else you did or are doing today.”

Well, one thing that the researchers suggest is that this portion of the brain is activated because “the act of reading a novel places the reader in the body of the protagonist, which may alter somatosensory and motor cortex connectivity.” On the other hand, the researchers note that this particular area of brain activity “might relate to oculomotor coordination and attention, for example, and have nothing to do with the content of the novel.”

It’s interesting that some of the brain changes correspond to changes previously observed in the reading of short stories and other materials. But the complicating factor here, of course, is that it’s just very difficult to set up controlled experiments to figure out what’s going on in the brain. For example, if you were to perform an fMRI of these same participants in, say, five years and saw that the changes in the third network were still there, would that mean that Pompeii had stuck with them as a book? Or just that they’ve read a lot of novels since then?

This is a prime example of both how much we know about neuroscience and how little. We know that reading changes the brain, in part (per Gray) because everything changes the brain. But are there changes to the brain specific to reading a book? What kind of changes are they? How long do they last? What is their significance? These questions are a lot harder to answer. But along the way, we might learn some interesting things.

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Read my Forbes blog here.

Source: Forbes

iPad Air Giveaway. Win a free iPad Air.

You Might Also Like


Shopping Deals


<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.




blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Jim Parsons Talks About &quot;The Big Bang Theory&quot; and Upcoming Nominations
Jim Parsons Talks About "The Big Bang Theory" and Upcoming Nominations
Proud of being nominated for his role in HBO movie "The Normal Heart."
Benedict Cumberbatch Takes &quot;Ice Bucket Challenge&quot; To New Level
Benedict Cumberbatch Takes "Ice Bucket Challenge" To New Level
The Brit Star is nominated five times for the challenge.
Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara Exit MythBusters
Microsoft set to unveil Windows 9 on September 30th
Microsoft set to unveil Windows 9 on September 30th
While Threshold is likely to be named Windows 9, it’s unlikely that Microsoft will name its upcoming Windows release at its press event.

About the Geek Mind

The “geek mind” is concerned with more than just the latest iPhone rumors, or which company will win the gaming console wars. I4U is concerned with more than just the latest photo shoot or other celebrity gossip.

The “geek mind” is concerned with life, in all its different forms and facets. The geek mind wants to know about societal and financial issues, both abroad and at home. If a Fortune 500 decides to raise their minimum wage, or any high priority news, the geek mind wants to know. The geek mind wants to know the top teams in the National Football League, or who’s likely to win the NBA Finals this coming year. The geek mind wants to know who the hottest new models are, or whether the newest blockbuster movie is worth seeing. The geek mind wants to know. The geek mind wants—needs—knowledge.

Read more about The Geek Mind.