Many people have claimed that reading a special book has transformed their life, but now scientists have discovered that enjoying a novel can make a real, measurable change in the brain too.

U.S. researchers used fMRI scanners to identify brain networks associated with reading stories and found that changes in the brain linger for a few days after reading a powerful work of fiction.

They set out to unravel the mystery of how stories ‘get into’ the brain and find the lingering effects of literature.

‘Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person,’ said Gregory Berns, lead author of the study and director of the university’s Centre for Neuropolicy.

‘We want to understand how stories get into your brain and what they do to it,’ he said.

The study, published in the journal Brain Connectivity, was based on research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brain networks involved with the reading of stories.


A total of 12 students participated in the experiment, which was conducted over 19 consecutive days and saw them reading the same novel – Pompeii, a thriller by Robert Harris, which is based on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in ancient Italy.

The novel was selected for its page-turning narrative, which centres on the protagonist outside Pompeii, who sees signs of the eruption and struggles to get back to the city to save the woman he loves.

Professor Berns said: ‘It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.’

While most previous studies have focused on the cognitive processes involved while people are reading stories in an fMRI scanner, this study was primarily concerned with the after effects of reading.

Students’ brains were scanned in a resting state each morning for the first five days of the experiment.

They were then given nine sections of the book over nine days and asked to read each 30 page section every evening.

They then came into the lab the next morning to undergo an fMRI scan in a non-reading state – after answering a quiz to ensure they really had read the section.

After completing all nine sections of the novel, the participants were scanned over five more mornings in a resting state.

The results showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex – an area of the brain which is associated with receptivity for language – on the mornings following the reading assignments.

‘Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity,’ Professor Berns said.

‘We call that a “shadow activity,” almost like a muscle memory,’ he added… see more

source: dailymail UK