We’re story junkies. Literally.
Researchers at Emory University found that reading a novel triggers measurable changes in your brain. And those changes can linger for up to five days after you stop reading.
Participants in the study all read the same book: Pompeii, a thriller by Robert Harris published in 2003. The researchers established a baseline, and then every day for nine days the subjects read a chunk of the book. The next morning, the researchers scanned their brains. After participants finished the novel, researchers scanned their brains again for five days.
The results: researchers measured heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex of the brain, as well as neurological changes that persisted in a way similar to muscle memory—and these changes continued during the five-day post-reading phase of the study. That is, the participants did not have to be reading to have heightened brain activity.
That’s the power of story.
“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study, in an interview with The Independent, a newspaper based in the UK.
“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense,” he said. “Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
Writers have always tried to create protagonists and antagonists that readers identify with, and to write books that people get caught up in. Now we know that if we succeed, we can literally change the minds of our readers.
How cool is that? Okay, and maybe also a little bit spooky.