Yes! And not only that—it actually has an effect on all brain function.
Neuroscientists from Emory University published a study in the Brain Connectivity Journal called.
Reading fiction books improves all connectivity in the brain.
The novel that was given to students who participated in the study is Pompeii by Robert Harris, and it’s based on the real-life eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Students were instructed to read one chapter per day, which is approximately 30 pages. The experiment lasted 9 consecutive days. To monitor brain activity during both active and resting states, students had fMRI brain scans done before and after the reading sessions.
Results of the study showed the following:
- There was increased activity in the left temporal cortex—an area of the brain associated with language learning.
- Additionally, there was increased activity in the —the fold in the cerebral cortex that separates the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe, and separates the sensory and motor areas of the brain.
What do these results mean?
- Reading a book improves our ability to put ourselves in the role of another person (the main or other characters in the novel), so it’s like assuming another identity and exploring what it might be like to interact with the entire cast of characters, experience a range of different emotions, and even make decisions as that person.
- Reading boosts brain connectivity so we perceive the body sensations of others through the “mirroring”technique, which is similar to visualization. For example, if the protagonist in the novel is running, even if we just think about that activity, this will activate our own neural networks associated with actual running—so we’ll actually “experience” the physical act.
- The important takeaway from the study is to read fiction, specifically novels, so that we allow ourselves to become part of the story and to bond with the characters and plot in order to boost brain function. This can’t be achieved in the same way when we read non-fiction, because the goal in non-fiction isn’t necessarily to identify with others, but rather to do research and gather tips based on studies described in the book.
What do these results mean for the brain in the long term?
- Even when they weren’t reading, students’ brains showed increased activity. Scientists call this “shadow activity”, and this activity in the brain is similar to muscle memory. Muscle memory enables us to master a difficult task through repetition and practice over time so that it becomes second nature. In other words, muscles “remember” to act a certain way that over time will not require as much strain as it did initially.
- Improvement in brain function wasn’t limited only to the experiment period. Here’s perhaps the most fascinating part of the study. A boost in brain connectivity persisted—neural changes remained active for days after the reading assignment was over, which suggests that we can experience similar benefits even while doing other types of activities such as studying, working, learning a new skill, or problem-solving.
How can you incorporate reading fiction into your day?
- Make it a super easy mini habit. Instead of thinking you will now have to save up money to start buying a ton of books, remember that reading can be free; simply get a library membership. To streamline the novel selection process, download the so you can look for book recommendations, reviews, and plot summaries.
- Make your reading habit a pleasant ritual. That way you’ll start looking forward to it. It can be as easy as setting aside 30 minutes to an hour each evening to find a comfortable seat in your home, pick music to get in the mood, and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate or caffeine-free tea to help you relax.
- Select a book that’s the right fit for you. If you don’t know where to begin, try going through Quora’s list of suggested , . If you’re a history buff, try looking up the topic of ; it’s packed with excellent ideas that are certainly going to keep your mind in that curious mode you’ll want to be in as you are working on your new brain-boosting habit!