Reading is arguably one of the healthiest hobbies in the world. Since you were a child, you’ve been asked to cultivate a habit of reading and been constantly told that it has countless advantages. Once you grew up, you also realized that it is relaxing and, to an extent, helps you dampen the ambient noise in general. You have also been told of its numerous benefits on your health and general well-being. But what goes on inside? What kind of an effect it can have on the brain?
Reading has a subtle way of narrowing the reader’s focus and channelling the energy in an attempt to get absorbed into the material. Better the material, more the immersion. The habit of reading goes beyond gathering knowledge and information — it carries a sense of calmness, and also, entertains the reader, effectively keeping them hooked on to the pages.
Many of us read in a number of unique settings, most of which are complementary to how we enjoy it the most. But the end result is the same — reading lowers stress, brings the heart rate under control, and minimizes blood pressure.
How does reading manage to do this? An effect like this must have a logical explanation. And that explanation lies with the brain. While we are enjoying our book, the brain runs several processes simultaneously, each contributing towards the ultimate goal: to make the most of this activity. The moment we start reading, our brain gets to work, analysing the words; it activates the auditory system, and drives the vocalization and visualization networks into action to help us absorb the material.
There is still a veil of mystery around how brain reacts to reading, but there are a few sure ways that reading affects us. For instance, the brain relies on the connectivity within itself to better perform all its functions. Language processing is one activity that relies on the connectivity in the left temporal cortex, which is directly stimulated by the act of reading the narrative from a book.
A research conducted by Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy found that reading can have an effect on the brain not only during an activity, but also, in the resting state. As the left temporal cortex lights up, the acceptance of newer vocabulary is heightened, which is incorporated in the daily language. This effect lasts for days following the activity of reading, giving rise to a prolonged ability to grasp newer words to add to the dictionary of daily language.
As per the same study, the brain also makes way for the activation of the central sulcus. This is the section of the brain that helps define reading as a psycho-neuro activity. This section of the brain is responsible for the functioning of sensory motor activities of the body. This phenomenon is the one that allows us to actually experience the narrative from the book. If the character in the book is making a run for it, the brain fires neurons that are associated with the act of running.
This effect is also responsible for the readers’ propensity to use actual books over mobile screens. The want to touch and turn the pages is what brought back the use of actual books, and normalized sales in the market after the introduction of E-books. And it is all because of the activation of the central sulcus of the brain.
The University of Carnegie Mellon also conducted a similar study which brought forth an alteration in the brain tissue among children. Intense reading is recommended among children to drastically improve communication within the brain. This is done by a surge in the creation of white matter inside the brain. This is a result of the requirement of an enhanced capacity to comprehend the information being pumped in. It is often an exercise prescribed among children to recover from reading deficits — essentially meaning that the lack of reading can be made up for with focussed reading. This was supported by research conducted by scientists Timothy Keller and Marcel Just as well.
Reading is nothing but a workout for your brain, as it is a neurobiologically challenging task to consume knowledge in the form of words. This workout has several benefits — one among these is the improvement of memory. Reading brings together several brain functions like auditory reception, visual processes, comprehension, fluency and more.
Reading research conducted by Haskins Laboratories indicated that reading is a much more demanding process than watching a movie or listening to media. It gives the brain some time to stop and process the words and form an image from scratch. The result of this is the creation of an image in the mind that flows along with the narrative being presented in the book, which then becomes a constant process. This cycle of creation and its utilization essentially sharpens memory in the same way that lifting weights aids muscle toning. Reading and writing are two activities that are proven to boost brain activity.
Perhaps the most rewarding effect that reading can have on people is their increase in attention spans. Because of the style in which most stories are written, a narrative begins to form in the brain which is a reflection of the sequential progression of the book. Reading the book encourages the brain to think similarly and spend a significant amount of energy and time to build a visual story corresponding to the words. The pace of reading contributes to the storytelling, and with practice, it may increase along with the expansion of attention span in everyday life.
Reading remains to be in high demand, especially in our modern times. As the renowned neuroscientist Susan Greenfield mentioned in her book, Mind Change, the advent of the internet has helped people get better at multi-tasking and improved their short-term memory. But it has the potential to split our attention unlike the act of reading a book. Sporadic browsing of the internet makes it impossible to slowly consume the available information.
Another massive advantage that is seen as largely physiological. Reading channels your attention on the book by narrowing your focus down to the book by drowning out the ambience. This lowers the need to concentrate on your surroundings and abstracts you from it, relaxing your body. As a result, the breathing pattern changes and slows down your inhale and exhale cycle. This has a meditative effect on the body, and in result, you feel calm and refreshed by the end of a reading session.
Many things occur between the lines when you are immersed in a book that takes you through a journey. A multitude of advantages awaits the ones who decide to treat themselves with an intriguing read. Where’s that intriguing read, you ask? Keep looking.
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