We seem to know a lot of young readers participating in Battle of the Books and the Global Reading Challenge this year. It’s impressive how students who read outside their comfort zone discover new genres and authors they love.
These community-inspiring voluntary reading challenges not only encourage wider reading and more focused attention on reading comprehension, but just the act of reading could have a positive biological impact on readers’ brains. Maybe you, like me, justify your reading habit by saying, “It makes me a better person. It helps my brian.” It seems that we’re onto something.
In a study from Emory University in 2013, undergraduates were given a page-turner to read, and were studied after they finished the novel.
For the first five days, the participants came in each morning for a base-line fMRI scan of their brains in a resting state. Then they were given nine sections of the novel, about 30 pages each, over a nine-day period. They were asked to read the assigned section in the evening, and come in the following morning.
After taking a quiz to ensure they had finished the assigned reading, the participants underwent an fMRI scan of their brain in a non-reading, resting state. After completing all nine sections of the novel, the participants returned for five more mornings to undergo additional scans in a resting state.
The results showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, on the mornings following the reading assignments.
“Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity,” Berns says. “We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.”
We think that’s pretty nifty. Want to read more about it? Here’s a write-up of the study.
Don’t forget that reading novels also increases empathy. The Scientific American says so. That means reading isn’t a guilty pleasure: it’s personal development!
Is there a particular book you think has affected your language receptivity, or one that has noticeably affected your empathy? Have you or someone in your family participated in a battle of the books or reading challenge? Share in the comments!