Let’s Take a Look at Our Brains When We are Reading

Jiwon S. ('24)

The importance of reading has been emphasized for so long by our parents and teachers, and as a result, you might have wondered why they are so certain that reading will make you a better critical thinker or help you gain better grades at school. With the development of social media and limitless content online that comes to you with one single swipe, books might be a harder medium to familiarize yourself with. However, knowing the functions of our brains in the moment we read will amaze you and motivate you to read more. Nowadays, the development of neuroscience has allowed brain scans to reveal what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description of emotions or events from a story. 

It is important to note that the connection between our brain and reading has been clearly proven by scientists to have direct effects on our thinking and actions. Neuroscientists have discovered that reading a novel can improve brain function on a variety of levels. The researchers found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. The changes caused by reading a novel were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the primary sensorimotor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded or embodied cognition. In a study led by the cognitive scientist Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of members were filtered as they perused sentences like “John got a handle on the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The brain scanners uncovered action within the engine cortex, which facilitates the body’s developments. This movement was mostly done in one portion of the engine cortex when the movement portrayed was arm-related and in another portion when the movement was connected to the leg.

Within a study in 2006 published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex lit up and the information was saved within your learning memory of the five senses; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark. This study shows that reading stimulates the reactionary senses of your brain, allowing you to interpret text and deliver emotions faster. 

The brain does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life. In each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality. More specifically, Fiction offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect, novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page.
Aside from a scientific perspective, we can also experience and physically feel the change in our brain or habits that happen when we read books. Books consist of sentences, all connected to each other, linked to its prior sentence. They create a story or one single event, and in order for your brain to structure the event,  concentration is required. Without concentrating, your thinking sequence will be cut and you will have to go back to the beginning or the point your brain stopped analyzing. In addition, when you are reading books, you are only focused on the book’s world. It is separate from the reality you are in, and the moment you are in the book’s world, other thoughts are at rest and you are truly focusing on one thing. At first, most people find it difficult to give a book full attention for more than 30 minutes. However, through practice and training, your attention span will naturally increase, helping you not only to read more books but also increase your ability to focus on your  other tasks such as homework and assignments. Do not force yourself to sit for a certain amount of time and finish a certain amount of pages. Read until your interest reaches an optimum level and you will incrementally add onto the duration of your reading, even by a few minutes as you continue to read everyday.

Works Cited

Berns, Gregory S.. "Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain." PubMed Central (PMC). Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2020. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868356/>

Bustle. "What Does Reading Do To Your Brain? These 5 Effects Are Pretty Astounding." Bustle. 11 Aug. 2017. Web. 9 Nov. 2020. <https://www.bustle.com/p/what-does-reading-do-to-your-brain-these-5-effects-are-pretty-astounding-74676>

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