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Have you ever felt inspired after reading a masterful book? Have you ever felt like the book made you see things in a different way? Have you ever discovered knowledge because of a book? Has a book made you feel wiser?
Books have power! Reading is an amazing process that can actually rewire your brain.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” That was Dr. Seuss. He had an amazing capacity to capture the most complex experiences in the simplest words. With that quote, he conveyed the power of reading: it opens up our minds to knowledge and experiences.
But what does reading actually do? How does it affect our brain?
When you get some of the details, you’ll be inspired to read even more.
What Reading Does to Your Brain – Scientifically Supported Facts
Reading Reshapes Your Brain
Researchers at Emory University wanted to detect the actual changes in the brain that the process of reading provokes. Gregory Berns, the lead author of the study, was aware of the fact that stories help define a person in some cases, so he wanted to know how the stories got into our brains and what they did to them.
The study is called Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain. It’s a pretty interesting one! All subjects of the experiment read Pompeii by Robert Harris. The researchers chose this novel because although it’s based on true events, it’s presented as a classic narrative arc. It’s a page-turner.
They found that “short-term effects might be observed immediately after reading.” The MRI scans showed enhanced connectivity in the brain’s area responsible for language receptivity. Even though the subjects were not reading the novel while in the scanner, the brain retained this heightened connectivity. The researchers named this phenomenon a shadow activity.
How does the brain actually change? “Three independent cortical networks demonstrated increases in connectivity as a result of the novel.” There was a significantly increased correlation within the networks of nodes during story days versus nonstory days.
The researchers were pretty clear on the meaning of their findings: “We have demonstrated that across the likely array of diverse experiences encountered by our participants, there was a detectable and significant common alteration of their RSN associated with reading sections of a novel the previous evening. Moreover, these changes could be segregated into networks associated with short-term changes originating near the left angular gyrus and long-term changes dispersed bilaterally in somatosensory cortex.”
The researchers couldn’t tell how long these neural changes might last. That question remains open. However, the fact that reading creates new (at least temporary) connections within your brain is indisputable. The neural changes they observed were not just momentary reactions, but they persisted the morning after the reading and for five days after the subjects finished reading the novel.
Reading Makes You More Empathic
When you read an amazing book, you feel like you’re suffering, laughing, and practically living life together with the characters. Some authors have the power to draw you into the story so much that you feel the exact feelings the character goes through. That’s called empathy. Any passionate reader would tell you they experienced such a thing for their favorite heroes.
You know what? Science proves that, too.
There’s a particular research study I want you to pay attention to: How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation.
The researchers wanted to prove what readers have always claimed: when people read fiction, they were emotionally transported into the story. The results showed exactly what they expected to see. Reading “enhances empathy for fiction readers.”
Why does this happen solely with fiction? Fiction writers focus not on consistency (which is the case in non-fiction), but on truthlikeness. When the writer creates a narrative world that’s realistic enough, the reader is drawn into the story. Fiction presents characters, settings, and events that the reader can identify with.
So yes; reading enhances empathy.
But why is empathy important, anyway? As it turns out, it’s more than feeling sympathy for other people’s emotions. Empathy, as an awareness of the feelings of others, is a key aspect of emotional intelligence. It’s the link between you and other individuals, and it determines the depth of all the connections you make.
In the smartphone era, empathy is more important than ever. And reading helps us awaken that part of us.
Reading Helps You Chill
Why do you read?
Why do you have an irresistible desire to indulge in a good book after a hard day at work or during weekends? It’s the escape from reality that you crave for. Life is great, but it’s also extremely challenging. Modern life, in particular, is too fast and too furious. We have too much to commute, too much to communicate, and too much to handle. A book opens up new worlds, and that’s exactly what most of us need.
So you fill the bathtub or you comfortably settle on the couch, with your e-reader or a paperback in your hands. You immediately feel relaxed. Chilled. Better.
That’s what a good book does to you!
Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether it’s a great book or just a simple page-turner that keeps you busy. There are books you don’t even remember after a week, but they still transport you into that chilled state of mind while you’re with them. Our personal experiences with books are enough to prove that it’s a stress-reducing strategy that works.
But you know what? Researchers support those personal experiences.
Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis found that reading reduced stress levels by 68%. “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” – he said. “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”
Thomas Lovecraft, who is a business strategy specialist at BestDissertations, says that “I believe reading is a great way to stay calm and relax. The best part of my day is having my morning coffee while getting lost in a good book.”
It’s not just a distraction. Reading leads to an active engagement of our imagination. It stimulates our creativity. If we’re talking about a really good book, it may even make us aware of the real questions and issues in life, so the trivial daily stress will seem insignificant.
Keep Reading; Your Brain Approves!
Do we really need science to prove that reading is great for us? We feel the effects of this habit whenever we take a great book in our hands.
Well if you were wondering what reading really does to your brain, now you know. It creates new connections, it enhances the sense of empathy, and it helps you relax. Go grab a book!
Author bio: Thomas Lovecraft runs a small business in California. He is an ornithology lover and an amateur songwriter. He likes Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain. Follow him on Twitter.