Your fifth grade English teacher was right, you should read a book. According to the study “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” by Emory University researchers Gregory S. Berns, Kristina Blaine, Michael J. Prietula, and Brandon E. Pye, reading a novel causes recordable, distinct physiological changes in the reader’s brain.
In this study, twelve women and nine men underwent daily MRI scans before, during, and after they read the book Pompeii, chosen for its plot, story line, and pacing. The results of the MRIs showed that brain activity not only increased during the days when the subjects read nightly portions of the book, but also in the days following the completion. The researchers likened the increased brain function in the days following the reading to “muscle memory,” noting significant connections in the language receptors and sensory motor areas of the participants’ brains.
What remains to be isolated is how long the effect lasts, a phenomenon that could be hard to accurately measure since few readers finish a novel and then never read again. The subjects scans continued to show this heightened level of connectivity in the brain for all five days after completing the book that the subjects returned for scans.
One key element of this type of research, though, is the practical application. Educators have long known that certain types of music can stimulate brain development and memory in children, and researchers have already found a correlation between memorizing poetry and staving off the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies such as the Emory study can help populations support personal reading, while providing evidence for policy makers where widespread access to literature is affected.