It’s said that a great book will always leave a significant impression, leave you thinking about the world differently – and even leave you feeling as though you lived a completely different life. Well, take note, bookworms: Your most cherished reads could help to redefine you in more ways than one.
A recent study conducted by Atlanta’s Emory University – and published in the journal Brain Connectivity – looked at the effects of reading a novel on the brain. Researchers found that pouring over a book can not only change your outlook on life but also alter your mind’s chemistry – if even for a brief period.
Neuroeconimcs professor Gregory Berns and other researchers posited that if a book can leave someone with the notion that their life is changed by it, perhaps it is powerful enough to cause changes in brain structure and function, too. Over a one-month period, they explored the novel-reading minds of 21 Emory undergraduates. The students were assigned Robert Harris’ 2003 thriller, Pompeii, based on Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in ancient Italy. The novel was chosen over a short story because of its length and depth.
Using baseline functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they analyzed participants as they rested for five days and as they read particular portions of the novel over nine additional evenings. After completing the novel, students then returned for five additional days, undergoing scans while in a restful state once more.
What they discovered was that reading a book heightens connectivity in the brain’s left temporal cortex and central sulcus, the primary sensory motor region responsible for receiving language and making sensory representations of the body – or grounded cognition. For example, just thinking about running can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running. In some cases, biological changes in participants’ brain lingered for a few days after reading.
These findings suggest that experiencing a novel not only places you in someone else’s shoes figuratively, but biologically speaking as well. And ultimately, your favorite novels could have a larger, long-lasting effect on the makeup of your brain altogether.