Monday, January 6, 2014

We suspected it all along. . .


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 Connectivityscientists 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.

6 comments:

Cherry Odelberg said...

Uh Huh.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

What a great way to start the new year! Yes! We have a weighty responsibility. Thank goodness we aren't alone in our work. I'm so glad to have this community. And I'm so glad the break is over. I've missed this blog!

Sharon K Souza said...

Thank you, Susie. We've missed all of you too!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

You mean all those people in my brain have a physical place to live? And all those places are physical territory in there? Wonderful how it never gets crowded. There's always room for another set of characters and scenes.
From a writer's point of view, my character does something somewhere, then next week I change what he did and where....there must be some mechanism that wipes out the first creation? Every draft has a place in my brain? Now we're talking crowded!
I missed this blog too! Happy New Year! What are we seizing this year?

Latayne C Scott said...

We are so glad to be back interacting with you! It's a new year! We have new territory in our brains to stimulate!

Cherry Odelberg said...

This is fantastic and wonderful. I think I will go play the piano now; because, you know, I bet that will leave a shadow on my brain, too.