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What Reading Actually Does To Your Brain

From enhancing your brain’s connectivity to constructing new white matter to improving your attention span and working memory, reading benefits our brains in many, many ways. It’s perhaps one of the best — and healthiest — hobbies out there. And the best part? It doesn’t matter what you read.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the physical and mental changes reading elicits to answer the question, what does reading do to your brain? After all, you’ll already know how in favour of reading we are if you’ve seen our top book posts!

An open book with small print on a wooden bench.

Reading Enhances Your Brain’s Connectivity

A study conducted by researchers at Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy proved that reading narratives not only alters your brain’s connectivity during the activity, but also in resting state. Gregory Berns, neuroscientist and lead author of the study, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the brain’s pathways associated with reading to come to this conclusion.

When you read, the connection to and from the left temporal cortex (i.e., the brain’s language receptor) is heightened. Amazingly, this increased activity remains for multiple days after you’ve finished reading. So, if you read every day, your left temporal cortex is working out a lot, which is nothing but a good thing.

Reading Puts You in The Characters’ Shoes — Biologically and Figuratively!

The same study gives us another answer to your “what does reading do to your brain” question! As well as boosting the left temporal cortex, reading increases activity in the part of the brain responsible for primary sensory motor activity, known as the central sulcus.

No matter what you read, the neurons in your central sulcus activate, causing you to feel like you’re experiencing the sensations not just reading about them. For instance, if you’re reading a passage from a book involving running from a lion, your brain activates the neurons related with this physical act.

Grounded cognition (i.e., the phenomenon just described) puts you figuratively and biologically into someone else’s shoes, thanks to the brain’s biological reactions.

Reading Rewires Your Brain and Constructs New White Matter

A close-up of a neuron depicting the answer to the question: what does reading do to your brain?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University showed that reading exercises (most notably in children) can change the physical brain tissue in overwhelmingly positive ways.

The two scientists, Marcel Just and Timothy Keller, conducted the study back in 2009, finding that intense reading instructions physically rewired young children’s brains. This process allows the brain to build more white matter, improving internal message travel.

Keller and Just’s results suggest that children displaying reading deficits can pinpoint certain problems within the brain’s circuitry that can actually be treated by increasing the amount of reading they do.

Reading Boosts The Capacity of Your Working Memory

Reading is a glorious past time for many people (thankfully; we already know how healthy it is, after all). But to fully answer your “what does reading do to your brain” question, we need to look at the bare bones of it. Which are? That reading is rather challenging (neurobiologically speaking).

Your brain uses various functions as you read:

· Visual processes

· Auditory processes

· Phonemic awareness

· Comprehension

· Fluency

· And so many others!

As per research discovered at Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word, reading gives you (i.e., your brain) ample time to pause, consider, process, and imagine. This heightened mental agility sharpens your memory. Consider reading your brain’s way of pumping iron.

Reading Improves Your Attention Span

Most novels are sequential. That is, they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. While it seems inconsequential, it’s an important part of the answer to your “what does reading do to your brain” question.

The format encourages your brain to think in a sequence. Therefore, you spend more time building and developing the story instead of rushing through the words. An esteemed neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield, comments on reading’s ability to improve our ever-shortening attention span in her book Mind Change.

While she notes that the internet has increased people’s capacity for short-term memory and multi-tasking, it has decreased attention spans. Thus, reading novels (i.e., with a linear plot line) and slowly thinking about the information boosts attention spans among adults and children alike.

Reading Increase Ability to Empathise with Others

In 2013, David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano conducted a study that proved reading literary fiction — novels that explore the characters’ inner lives — gives you a substantially higher ability to understand others’ feelings and belief systems.

This capability is known to field researchers as “the theory of mind.” The name is used to refer to the set of skills necessary for developing and maintaining social relationships of any kind.

Unfortunately, you won’t reap this answer to your “what does reading do to your brain” question after one literary fiction reading session. Instead, you’ll need to knuckle down and read consistently from the genre for best results.

So, What Should You Read to Get These Amazing Benefits?

A bookshelf in a library full with fiction and non-fiction novels.

The short answer? Anything and everything you can! Seriously. Whatever you read will massively help your brain. But if you’re short on time, try to read a page or two. The point is not to stress about it. While some people read a book a week (or every few days!), you don’t need to aspire to this — just do what you feel comfortable with. And if you’ve never read a book, start now. You’ll be astounded by how much it can change your life (in all the ways we’ve mentioned and more.

What Does Reading Do to Your Brain? Solved!

We’ve well and truly answered your “what does reading do to your brain” query. So, all you need to do now is start reading. As mentioned, you can read anything you like, but if you’re stuck for ideas, peruse a couple of our top book lists:

· Top 10 Books to Read This Summer

· Top 10 Books to Read This Spring

· The 7 Best Romance Novels to Read

And if you feel like giving your brain some TLC, combine a good book with some creative therapy and you’ll feel as if you’ve spent a week or two at the country’s best spa!

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