Reading Novels Can Make Big Changes in Your Brain

If you’re like so many others, you’re probably reviewing a list of New Year resolutions you’ve written down or made a mental note of in your mind. Studies have shown that breaking bad habits (and creating new, good ones) requires a rewiring of the brain. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Center for Neuropolicy, Emory University, reading novels can result in changes in what they call “resting-state connectivity of the brain”. The purpose of the study was to determine how long these changes last.

This type of change is one of the things needed to break or make habits.

The scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to view baseline images and then again after people read 30 pages of the same thriller novel. The study went on for 17 days, each day the participants read additional pages of the novel and then had MRI scans taken the next day. According to lead investigator, Gregory S. Berns, they discovered “significant increases in connectivity” in parts of the brain associated with “perspective taking and story comprehension”. The study also showed that these changes in connectivity remained for a number of days after reading ceased.

What does this mean? The scientists that conducted the study say they need to continue studying the effects of reading a bit further to come to any definite conclusions, but that reading novels “definitely strengthens the language processing regions on our brains.” If further research finds that the brain boost from reading novels is persistent and lasting, it could lead to the discovery of new methods and techniques to change the habit of our daily lives.

Read more about the study in Does Reading Actually Change the Brain?” on the sci-tech website, Futurity.

The fact that study participants read a thriller novel wasn’t lost on me, of course.

I love to write thrillers and crime novels that keep readers guessing and captivated by intense suspense and astonishing twists. The researchers chose a thriller novel for their study because of the genre’s fast-paced, page-turning plots. This isn’t the only research out there that points to the benefits of reading novels. In previous posts I’ve cited other studies that indicate depressing fiction can change you for the better and that people often change their thoughts and behaviors to match those of the protagonists in fiction novels they read.

It’s likely that we’ll see more studies focused on the effects of reading fiction in the near future. I think the scientists are “on” to something with this line of research. When I read a particularly intense book (one that really keeps me reading rather than doing what I need to be doing), it can affect my thoughts and attitude for days. I think about the characters when I’m not reading the book and frequently continue to think about them for some time after I’m finished. Although it seems unrelated, it’s this type of persistent thinking that may help us successfully break bad habits and create new, good habits.

Perhaps one way to make a positive change in 2014 involves more fiction reading. Ah, if it were only that simple. If nothing else, it gives reading addicts a great excuse to feed their habit. You can get started with my thrillers by grabbing a copy of First Blood. This set includes the first novel in each of my three thriller series: Alex Stone, Lou Mason, and Jack Davis.

What do you think? Do the novels you read make you feel like you’ve gotten a brain boost? Share your thoughts with me.


Photo credit: mindingthebedside [dot] com