What Reading Does To Your Brain Is Truly Fascinating



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What Reading Does To Your Brain Is Truly Fascinating

"I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library," Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges once said. The accuracy of that attribution is debatable, but the quote's sentiment undeniably resonates with those who love to read. It comes as no surprise then that reading is good for your brain in a number of ways, whether you're engrossed in a George R. R. Martin fantasy novel or a personal essay about one man's search for an identity.

Reading can take you to imaginary lands, foster understanding of different cultures and let you live lives you couldn't in the real world. Sure, that sounds like a romanticization of reading, but science has shown that it has very real benefits for the brain, too.

Literacy levels in America are bleak: 1 in 4 American children grow up without learning to read and 93 million Americans have basic or below-basic literacy. The downside is that the right to literacy is not extended to everyone; on the other hand, community efforts to improve literacy in America point to an understanding of its importance as a tool for personal growth that benefits society, too.

So if you're reading this — and you're one of the more fortunate ones — here's how reading can affect your brain in the most remarkable ways.

1. Reading rewires your brain

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University observed the structure of children's brains before and after 100 hours of intensive reading training. At the end of the study, the white matter (the stuff that improves brain communication) in their brains increased and they were able to read better.

2. Reading in a foreign language can make your brain grow

Learning a foreign language can be challenging. But one of the best ways to improve is to read in the language you're learning — it improves vocabulary, gives context for new words and reinforces our memory.

A study by the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy showed that those who underwent intensive language instruction saw significant size growth in parts of the brain that involved learning new material and spatial navigation, further strengthening the argument for reading.

3. Reading about an experience is like you're living it yourself

Researchers in Spain found that the brain does not draw huge contrasts between reading about an encounter and experiencing it in real life. Fiction books offer a particularly vivid replica of real life, the New York Times reported, and allowed readers to fully submerge themselves in another person's thoughts and feelings.

4. Different reading styles create different brain patterns

At Stanford University, researchers observed an interesting difference when people skimmed through excerpts of a Jane Austen novel and when they actually read closely as if they were studying for an exam.

In both instances, blood flow in the brain increased, but in separate parts. The study gave researchers a glimpse at the kind of effects our reading ways have on our brains.

5. Reading makes you more empathetic

Some say there are two types of fiction — literary and genre. Researchers found that besides the categorical distinction, its impact on the human brain is also different. Those who read literary fiction tested better for understanding other's thoughts and feelings, which meant their capacity for empathy was better than those who read nonfiction or genre fiction.

6. It could also make you smarter

Writing in The Guardian, Dan Hurley pointed to recent studies confirming that the relationship between reading and intelligence is so close that it could be symbiotic. Listing out three types of intelligence most recognized by psychologists, Hurley stated that people who read overall performed better on all fronts.

Not convinced yet? Maybe it's time to pick up that book you've been neglecting.
A trip to the bookstore is in order.


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4 Bad Side Effects of Reading Fiction According to the 19th Century
By Beth Bartlett


These days we’re desperately trying to get more people to read but in the 1800s, it was a different story. Books were supposed to teach people about science, philosophy and religion, not lead someone down an exciting path filled with action, drama and heartbreak. The thought that reading could be a joy instead of a chore and accessible to anyone with a dime scared many in positions of authority, because the works of Socrates didn’t stand a chance next to bestselling author May Agnes Fleming and The Unseen Bridegroom:Wedded for a Week.

To stem the popularity of novels, articles appeared in periodicals like The Mother’s Magazine and The Guardian and in books like Rev. J.T. Crane’s Popular Amusements, which recommended total abstinence from novel-reading. Why?

Fiction makes your mind flabby.
For decades, novels were considered “light” reading, because readers didn’t take away knowledge or moral instruction from the book, they just read for the fun of it. Reading novels didn’t, in theory, exercise the brain and so left the thought processes to deteriorate. Not only did these critics never try to deduce the culprit in a mystery novel, they probably hadn’t read Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1828 novel Penham. That high society-based book was basically a celebrity tell-all with the names changed, and became a hit when readers worked to figure out the real people behind the characters. Deductive reasoning is always fun when gossip is involved.

Stories can leave you dissatisfied with reality.
People are usually dissatisfied with reality anyway, that’s why they read. Then and now, readers think about characters and plotlines long after the book is closed, escaping personal drudgery for a while. But the real threat was readers would keep these fanciful ideas in their heads and quit being grateful just because they were alive. Soon they would want better lives with more adventure and romance and less back-breaking work and death. They would be more susceptible to day-dreaming, which “destroys mental balance,” or worse, forget about duty to church, family and work, and run off willy-nilly in search of happiness and self-discovery.

Novels stoke the emotions.
Romance novels were the main offenders here, because religious leaders and educators felt that these “domestic” novels simply worked the reader up too much. Young men and ladies might identify with the characters so strongly, they would become obsessed with the promise of love and seek out better relationships rather than just learn to settle for whomever was available. The thought that people wanted passion and excitement was frightening. If people started doing whatever they wanted, critics reasoned, chaos would rule and communities would break down. If this was true and they had Danielle Steel or Johanna Lindsey back then, the world would have likely exploded.

Sensational works can numb the soul to tragedy.
Ask anyone who read The Fault in Our Stars or the last couple of Harry Potter books, and they’ll likely tell you there was plenty of sobbing and Kleenex involved. But critics were afraid that if people read too many gripping thrillers, crime stories or sad, tragic tales, it would shred their morals and make them into unfeeling cads with no sympathy for their fellow humans. They didn’t realize that reading these stories gave readers an outlet to feel wicked or sad with no strings attached, and made them more empathetic. Books like Hannah Webster Foster’s 1797 novel The Coquette, the tragic tale of an unmarried, pregnant girl and her child, actually did teach to the morals of the day but also made people think about the fully-drawn character and her circumstances.

While these side effects seem ridiculous to us now, at least E. S. Janes, who wrote the introduction to Popular Amusements in 1869, recognized the flow of time. “The fashionable follies of the last century are now deemed matters of wonder and derision,” he said, “just as the follies of our day may be laughed at a hundred years hence.”

Thank goodness they never saw the Internet.


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