Emory University researchers studied the lingering effects of reading the novel Pompeii by doing fMRI brain scans on participants each morning after they had read part of the book. Novel reading caused the brain to function differently the next morning and for days afterward.
For the first five days, the participants came in each morning for a base-line fMRI scan of their brains in a resting state. Then they were given nine sections of the novel, about 30 pages each, over a nine-day period. They were asked to read the assigned section in the evening, and come in the following morning. After taking a quiz to ensure they had finished the assigned reading, the participants underwent an fMRI scan of their brain in a non-reading, resting state. After completing all nine sections of the novel, the participants returned for five more mornings to undergo additional scans in a resting state.
The results showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, on the mornings following the reading assignments. “Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity,” Berns says. “We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.”
I feel a lasting altered mental state after reading fiction. So I am not surprised by this result. What I'd like to know: can one tune the performance of one's brain by reading a certain type of material to temporarily make it function better for some purpose? Do you do any reading as sort of exercise before some demanding activity? I can see reading some psychological suspense novel to up your game to help you deal with psychologically trying people. Or perhaps read something after an ordeal to let go of the lingering effects of an especially trying verbal exchange.
What I'd like to see: a comparative brain scan study of the effects of novel reading, TV show watching, and movie watching. Does reading a novel cause longer lasting effects?
People who read this novel had more connectivity in the primary sensory motor region of the brain. All that imaginary walking and running exercised the brain.
Heightened connectivity was also seen in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory motor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with making representations of sensation for the body, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition. Just thinking about running, for instance, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.
“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” Berns says. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
I want imaginary running to send a message to my muscles that make them develop as if they had been running.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2014 January 05 07:21 PM|