Everyone knows that reading a novel can change history. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance, “helped lay the groundwork for the American Civil War,” according to historian Will Kaufman. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle revolutionized food safety at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Novels change history by changing minds. But did you know that reading a novel can actually physically change your brain?
As documented in the academic journal Brain Connectivity, scientists measured the brains of readers with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The non-profit site Futurity interviewed the lead scientist of the study, Gregory Burns, who had two astonishing findings.
Berns: “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. . . We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
But even more amazing, the study documented that reading a novel leaves a kind of “shadow” in the brain, as demonstrated by neural scans, that shows that for days after finishing a novel, the book keeps having a measurable physical effect on the brain.
So, novels change people, mentally and physically.
As something as insubstantial, as ephemeral, as a collection of words continues to change the brain for days afterwards.
Ah, what a revelation.
And for us as authors, what a weight of responsibility.