When was the last time you read a gripping good novel? Has it been some time? New research suggests that you might want to read an engaging novel as often as possible. Why? Reading a riveting book can boost brain function and the effects last for days – at least five days in fact.
Maybe reading articles on this website does the same thing. I’m sure it does – one reason to come back to this site often.
Reading an enthralling novel causes increased connectivity between brain neurons and produces neurological changes similar to how exercising creates muscle memory. The more connections brain cells make with other brain cells the better the brain functions. More connections, better brain function (kind of like better ingredients, better pizza). This increased connectivity is called “shadow activity”.
The study from Emory University was published in Brain Connectivity involved 21 Emory undergraduate students and MRI imaging of the brain. The participants read 1/9 of the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris each night for 9 days. MRI imaging was done each morning following the nine days of reading and the following five days upon completion of reading the novel. Increased brain connectivity was seen in two areas of the brain – the left angular/supramarginal gyri and the right posterior temporal gyri.
Here’s what’s interesting. The nerve cells in these regions can delude the mind into thinking it is doing something that it is not, or what’s called grounded cognition. For instance, thinking about running and leaping over a fence to escape an angry dog chasing you will activate the neurons associated with running and jumping. So you obtain some physical benefit in activating those neurons even though you did not actually exert yourself.
Reading also stimulates the imagination more than watching a movie or video. Unfortunately, visual media is supplanting print media almost entirely. When you read you get a chance to imagine or interpret the scene any way you want stimulating more neurons. When you watch a movie that scene has been described for you – the brain does not have to work as much. So reading engages the mind more so than merely watching something. When going to a movie based on a book that I’ve read (like Harry Potter) I like to see how similar the scenes in the movie are to how I imagined them when I read the book. I tend to prefer my imagination.
The other thing about reading is this. If you can read you can teach yourself pretty much anything. All the world’s information is at your fingertips and that’s a neat thing to realize.
Keep your brain healthy and strong by reading more. And stay healthy by reading the articles on this site – that can improve brain function, too, I think!