This is Your Brain...This is Your Brain on Books

your-brain-on-books-4Now we know why we're hung up on reading. We talk about the guilty pleasures of the novel, of being sucked into a story, but it turns out we have an excuse. Lucky us—we're actually hard wired to respond to fiction.

Researchers have found our brain doesn't care whether we're reading about an experience—or actually engaged in it. Either way, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

If a character in a book walks across a room to close a window, the brain's motor cortex—the part that directs our physical action—lights up. It's as if we, not the character, got up out of our chair to close the window. More suprising, the motor cortex region associated with leg movement and another with arm movement both light up.

But wait! There's more! When scents or textures are described, our brain's olfactory and sensory regions kick in. So "her skin was smooth as silk" elicits a more powerful brain response than "she had lovely skin." High-five for metaphors.

We've long intuited that literature allows us to transcend our own skin (speaking of skin) and experience, from the inside out, how someone else views the world. And guess what...brain studies confirm it.

It turns out people who read are more empathetic, with a higher proclivity for understanding different viewpoints. This cause-and-effect relationship holds true even when taking into account that people who empathize might be more inclined to read than those who don't.

Be sure to read the fascinating article by Annie Murphy Paul: New York Times, March 12, 2012. It's good reading...will light up your brain!

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