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Many people, especially frequent readers of novels and other works of fiction, sometimes wonder whether their reading habit is just a hobby and a way to relax. Or does reading affect a person’s brain and way of thinking?
Reading stimulates multiple areas of your brain including the left temporal cortex which is associated with language receptivity. Reading regularly keeps the brain active and lowers the rate of mental aging in adults. Reading is also recommended for patients suffering from brain-related diseases.
Recent studies have confirmed that specific brain activities are stimulated when reading. With modern technology, the actual brain reactions can now be measured and analyzed. These brain activities influence the reader’s way of thinking and open up new ways of handling real-life situations.
In this article, we’ll look at what parts of the brain are influenced when you read, and what happens in your brain during the process. Then we’ll discuss seven ways of how reading affects your brain positively.
So, let’s get started!
What Part of the Brain is Influenced When you Read?
To see what areas of the brain are influenced when reading, researchers use Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans (fMRI). This enables them to measure and map the brain’s activity.
Researchers at Emory University conducted an important study regarding what parts of the brain are influenced when reading. The study group read the novel “Pompeii” in specific sessions and fMRI scans were taken after every session.
Heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex was detected. This is an area in the brain associated with language receptivity.
Heightened connectivity was also detected in the central sulcus of the brain. This is the primary sensory motor region of the brain and its neurons are associated with sensation and body movements.
Just thinking of swimming, for instance, activates the neurons in the same way as when it is a physical swimming activity.
Other studies have confirmed that reading causes interactions among several brain areas. These areas include the already mentioned left temporal cortex and central sulcus of the brain, but also include areas associated with symbol recognition, sounds, and spoken language.
This interaction between different parts and functions of the brain results in your brain understanding and storing the content you are reading.
What Happens to the Brain When Reading?
In short, it can be said that the most important thing that happens in your brain when reading is that your brain stays active.
Reading doesn’t only put information into your brain but also enhances the working of your brain.
Regular reading can actually increase your brain power and memory as reading involves areas and functions in your brain that might need a “workout” just as body muscles need regular workouts to stay in good shape.
Related Article – 21 Benefits of Reading Regularly [Here’s Why We Should All Read!]
Even when a person is aging and does not need to think analytically anymore or to remember a lot of information, reading keeps the brain’s “neglected areas” going. A study reported in The Huffington Post has indicated that frequent reading can lower mental decline by 32 percent.
7 Ways that Reading Affects Our Brain Positively
Scientists and researchers are continuously researching in what ways reading affects our brain positively.
It has already been determined that the reading of fiction has a much greater positive influence on a person’s brain than people commonly suspect.
1. Reading Broadens the Brain’s Frame of Reference
The brain of a frequent reader experiences more sensations than the brain of a non-reader. If for example, you read a passage where the character is taking a relaxed stroll in a park, the neuron activities in your brain let you experience it as though you’re taking the stroll yourself.
But what is important, is that studies have shown that a well-written fiction book activates the neurons in your brain to let you experience sensations that you’ve never experienced before in real life.
You experience it by just reading the description. And your brain doesn’t make a difference between real-life and fictional sensations.
As the brain doesn’t differentiate between fictional and real-life sensations you enlarge your brain’s frame of reference by reading. Good and bad sensations contribute to the frame of reference. So even if you are experiencing bad sensations while reading, they still give your brain a larger “library.”
2. Reading Makes Your Brain more Creative
Reading fiction, allows your brain to create many different worlds in your mind. Researchers have found that visual imagery in a story, just like the experiencing of sensations in a story, forms part of your memory.
And as with sensations, your brain doesn’t make a distinction between what you’ve seen in real life and what your brain has only envisaged when reading.
For your brain to be creative, it must have “blueprints” to tap from. These blueprints are formed over time by all the experiences, sensations, and memories in the brain.
The more you read, the more material for blueprints becomes available, and the more blueprints there are the more creative your brain will be. Thus, reading improves creativity!
3. Reading Encourages Your Brain to Think in Sequences
Well-written stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end teach your brain to think in sequences and link cause and effect. When reading fiction, your brain is continuously busy linking cause and effect in the story.
The more you read, the more your brain adapts to this way of thinking. Unconsciously your brain is also using more analytical ways of looking at real-life problems and challenges.
4. Reading Improves Your Memory
Reading also affects the brain positively by keeping your memory strong. Your brain has to engage in quite a few brain functions regularly to stay strong. These include functions such as phonemic awareness, visual and auditory processes, and comprehension.
Related Article – How Does Reading Improve Memory? [Here’s What You Should Know!]
Reading stimulates all these functions and the more you read, the easier your brain finds it to keep your memory strong.
5. Reading Provides Brain Stimulation
Although Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not curable, the process can be slowed down with enough stimulation of the brain. Reading is the ideal mental exercise to stimulate the brain, just as physical exercise stimulates the body.
The more the brain is stimulated the better the Dementia process is slowed down. Thus, even when the brain functions are deteriorating, reading can help to slow down the process.
6. Reading Makes it Easy for Your Brain to Relax
Reading makes it possible for your brain to relax, especially after a very busy day. Reading allows the brain to go to another world and reality. A good book will keep you focused on the story and let your brain escapes from everyday problems.
7. Reading Enhances the Brain to Show Empathy
According to studies, readers of fiction have more empathy with other people than non-readers. This is because of the broader frame of reference that reading provides the brain with. By understanding the emotions and circumstances of story characters, the brain finds it easier to understand other people.
When you read, you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and this contributes to doing the same in real life.
Can Reading Too Much Affect Your Brain Negatively?
One question you might have now is whether reading can also affect your brain negatively.
Reading does not affect your brain negatively. Reading in an incorrect position or reading for long hours can adversely affect your body posture, impact your eyesight, or may even cause a headache. But, there is simply no proof yet to suggest that reading can have a negative impact on your brain.
So, plan and enjoy your reading time and your brain will only benefit!
About the Author
Akansha is a former business journalist and a seasoned communications professional. She is the founder of TheBookBuff, an avid storyteller, and a lifelong biblophile! Check out her profile page to know more about Akansha.