Scientists say that reading a gripping novel and being immersed in its world leads to increased connectivity in the brain for up to five days. The changes are measurable for up to five days after one finishes reading the novel.
Scientists from Emory University, USA discovered that reading a good book leads to heightened brain connectivity and neurological changes that linger in a manner similar to muscle memory. The changes take place in the left temporal cortex. This is an area of the brain that works in receptivity to language. The primary sensory motor region in the brain is also affected by the changes.
The neurons in this brain region are known to work in ‘grounded cognition’, a phenomenon where they trick the brain into thinking that it is doing something that it is not actually doing. The lead author of the study, Neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, said that the noted neural changes associated with physical sensation and movement systems implied that one can be transported into the protagonist’s body by reading a novel.
In the study, 21 students were given the novel Pompeii to read. The novel is noted for its thrilling plot. The 2003 novel by Robert Harris follows the story of a protagonist who is outside the city of Pompeii and then notices some steam and strange activity around the volcano. The novel shows true events in a dramatic and fictional way and has a strong narrative line.
The students read the book in the evenings for 19 days in portions and then were subjected to daily fMRI scans. For up to five days, the scans showed residual activity thereby showing that the impact was not only an immediate action but also had a lasting influence. The professor calls this ‘shadow activity’ that is similar to muscle memory.
Well, there you have it. It is said figuratively that reading a good book can put you in the main character’s shoes, and now scientists are telling us that it is not only physical but also biological too.