By Rebecca Pocklington)
Reading a book can improve brain function for days, new research suggests.
Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, US, found reading a story causes changes in the 'resting-state' of the brain.
The group used functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners (fMRI) to identify changes in the brain's activity, and found the effects last for up to five days.
Neuroscientist and lead author of the study Gregory Berns said: “Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person."
He added: “We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”
The results showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, and the primary sensory motor region.
Neurons in the latter region have been associated with grounded cognition, when the mind is tricked into thinking it is doing something it's not, for example thinking about running can activate the neurons linked to the physical act itself.
Berns said: “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."
He added: “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.”
The study, published in the journal Brain Connectivity, focused on 21 students who were each asked to read the same book, 2003 thriller Pompeii by Robert Harris.
The students read a portion of the book every evening for 19 days before having the fMRI scans the following morning.
Once the book was finished, their brains were scanned for five days after, and the changes continued throughout.
Berms said: “The story follows a protagonist, who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano."
He added: “He tries to get back to Pompeii in time to save the woman he loves. Meanwhile, the volcano continues to bubble and nobody in the city recognizes the signs.”