How Reading Changes Your Brain
Shockingly, the latest statistics show 24 percent of adults in the U.S. did not read a single book in its entirety in 2017. Do you want your family to be part of the nation’s many non-readers? Not only is reading entertaining, informative, and educational, but it is a great stress reliever as well. Reading books can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, more studies are finding that the act of reading changes your brain for the better. It increases your brain connectivity, enhances your compassion skills, and improves your memory. Check out the following sections to find out how the magic of reading a good book can benefit your brain.
Reading Heightens Your Brain Connectivity
Everyone knows reading a gripping and powerful novel can make you feel and think in different ways, but did you know reading can actually cause your brain to change? Research has shown reading a narrative not only alters your brain at the time of reading, but it also continues to change your brain for days afterward. This is because reading heightens your brain activity.
Specifically, it is the left temporal cortex of your brain that becomes heightened. This is the part of the brain associated with the receptivity of language. The neurons in this region fool the mind into thinking it is doing an activity when it is not. For example, by just thinking about playing football, the neurons associated with physically playing football are activated. The same applies to reading a novel. If you are picturing yourself as the protagonist of a story who is climbing a mountain, the left temporal cortex of your brain is tricked into believing you are hanging from a rock and facing life-threatening imminent danger. Anybody who has felt their heart racing when reading a thriller or horror story will understand this sensation! This phenomenon is known as embodied cognition or grounded cognition.
Reading a novel affects a wide range of brain regions. This is because a story contains a multitude of communication forms. Neurobiological research is only just starting to understand how the brain functions when processing stories.
Reading Helps Your Memory
It has long been suggested that reading improves your memory, but how exactly does this work? Absorbing written information involves various brain functions, from auditory and visual processes to phonemic awareness. These functions are awakened to increase your brain’s capacity for remembering.
Research has shown reading fiction gives your brain more time to think about, process, and imagine the narrative than with other media. Watching media like television does not cause your brain to react in the same way. It seems to be true that reading books really is better for you than watching TV. This is especially true for children who are still developing their cognitive functions. At the end of the day, reading increases brain activity. In turn, increased mental activity means your memory becomes sharper.
Reading Increases Your Attention Span
In addition to improving your memory, reading expands your attention span. Most books use a sequential format consisting of a beginning, a middle and an end. This encourages your brain to think in terms of sequence. Thus, your brain spends time building layers to a story instead of rushing through details.
Although research has shown the internet can improve the user’s short-term memories and multitasking capabilities, many believe the internet splits the user’s attention. This is converse to reading a good novel. Reading a linear format like a story means you have more time to think about and process the information, unlike the internet in which you often switch from one tab to another. The way your brain fits together complex layers of narratives creates longer attention spans. This is particularly true in children. So, if you want your kids to pay attention, make sure they read!
Reading Makes You More Compassionate
Another section of your brain that researchers believe is activated when reading a story is the central sulcus region. This is the part responsible for primary sensory motor activity. When this part of the brain is activated, you feel as though you are in a fictional character’s shoes.
When you read, the neurons in the central sulcus region are activated to make you feel as though you are actually experiencing what is happening on the page. For instance, if you are reading about Bilbo Baggins running away from a dragon, the neurons associated with the physical act of running are activated. (Unfortunately, your body does not benefit in the same way from theoretically running as it does from physically running, so you cannot yet keep fit from sitting in your pajamas reading a good book.) This embodied cognition occurring while reading narratives can help readers become more compassionate over time because they are empathizing and sympathizing with the characters on the page.
Reading Improves Theory of Mind
Reading is beneficial for improving theory of mind. This is the ability to attribute mental states to yourself and others. These mental states include beliefs, knowledge, desires, intents and so forth. Theory of mind allows you to understand people have different beliefs, intentions, and desires than your own. In addition to making you more compassionate, reading makes you more empathic and open-minded. Children are particularly able to improve their cognitive functions by learning how to empathize with a fictional character in a book.
Research has shown television and movies often have the opposite effect. Less interactive media can reduce the theory of mind. A research paper published in the Journal of Communication in 2013 showed the cognitive development of preschool children who have a television in their bedroom is reduced significantly. This is due to them being more exposed to the weakened background cacophony of people’s beliefs, desires, and intentions. So, if you want your children and yourself to have a healthy and improved brain, simply read a book.
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