Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.
The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.
The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.
The study quoted above confirms what bookworms have known for generations: reading is good for you. But I’d like to clarify something. When we bookworms say that reading is good for you, we don’t mean that all books are good for you. If I could boil it down, I’d modify my reading creed to this. Read what you find fascinating, for your mind will be invigorated. (invigorated = energised)
I hope we’ve all had that feeling of in-the-zone learning. That feeling where you encounter something that “blows your mind”, that gives you an entirely different perspective on how you can exist in this world. For many people (of my generation), that happened when we watched The Matrix for the first time. When we were confronted with the idea that reality could be questioned, many of us were absolutely gobsmacked (utterly astounded, shocked beyond words, etc). That’s what learning feels like, to me.
Of course, we can’t always be having daily OMG moments. When I learn something new that’s not completely astonishing, I still feel a small sense of “wow!” or “aha!” that accompanies that learning process. For example, I recently read a book that challenged my own attitude about my relationship to entertainment. I was forced to consider that spending an hour on YouTube or Buzzfeed isn’t entirely innocuous (innocuous = harmless), and that it might have political, psychological, and moral implications. I was forced to consider that when taken to excess — as I frequently do — I might be falling victim to a process that would make me less thoughtful and intelligent (or more stupid, considering your current opinion of Mr Seah).
What does this have to do with reading?
Well, to go back to the study’s claims that reading boosts your brain function, it probably is true if you read things that fascinate you, that help you to learn. When we read a good novel, we frequently come away with a new way of thinking about the world. For example, if you read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, you might come away questioning the very basis of how we organise society.* If you read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, you might come away questioning the basis of Christianity (though you could always read another book to strengthen your faith, if you are a Christian). If you read any of Philip K Dick’s brilliant novels (A Maze of Death is a really fun place to start), you might come away questioning your own reality. Those are definitely new ways of looking at the world!
However, if you read something that’s not suited to your intellectual or reading level, your brain might suffer for it. It happens to many of my fellow literature graduate friends, for example, when we read something absolutely daft (daft = silly/foolish). Many of my friends who have slogged their way through the Twilight series have reported that they have lost a few IQ points. I don’t think they are exaggerating. I think that being lulled into an intellectual slumber really does make people stupid.
So get off the internet, go find a cozy corner, and go curl up with a good book. It strengthens your brain!
*You probably will end up asking a whole lot of other questions about the world. Soma, feelies….. yikes. We’re there, people.
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