Reading is good for you. One of the wisdoms that I myself received as a child. Parents, teachers and doctors emphasize the benefits of reading books, but what does reading actually do with the brain?
Neuroscientists of the Emory University have investigated how reading stories can change the brain. “We want to understand how stories come into your brain and what they do with it,” says research leader Gregory Berns.
Reading puts you in other people’s shoes
Brain scans have shown that reading stories results in increased connectivity in certain areas of the brain. These areas are mainly involved in making representations of sensations of the body also known as Grounded cognition. That sounds very nice, but what does that mean for me? Actually pretty much! For example, only thinking of playing soccer can activate networks in the brain that become active when you are actually playing soccer. Your brain is actually playing a little bit yourself when you read about it. Reading not only places you figuratively in someone else’s shoes, but also literally by biological reactions in your brain.
It is therefore not surprising that reading narratives can provide increased levels of empathy. A Dutch study showed that when a person identifies with a story, they will show more empathy afterwards. This increase in empathic power remains visible for a number of days. That way you might get a better understanding of your grumpy colleague and you better comprehend why your manager makes that specific choice.
Better than Netflix
Like the rest of your body, your brain benefits from a good workout. Indeed: no pain, no gain. Reading is neurobiologically more demanding than processing images or speech. When reading, we are forced to construct, to follow a storyline and to imagine. Typically, when you read, unlike watching a movie, you have more time to think. It gives you an unique pause button to obtain comprehension and insight.
So there is a greater demand on your brain than when binge-watching that new series. This increased mental activity helps keep your memory sharp, just like a workout keeps your body fit.
Take the time to read a good book this weekend, you will still be enjoying it next week.