8th June 2014 // By Erin Cook // Education

If you have a novel sitting on your bedside table, you should finish it. By the time you’ve reached the final chapter, you should be just a touch smarter than you were before. 

According to a recent study, losing yourself in a gripping novel can trigger measurable changes in brain activity that last for at least five days. 

Over the course of 19 days, researchers from Emory University asked participants to read part of a novel before bed. The next morning, they underwent fMRI scans that showed heightened activity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain important for processing and receiving speech. 

Researchers didn’t just choose any old book. Pompeii, a thriller by Robert Harris, was chosen due to raving reviews for its page turning plot. According to Burns, “The story follows a protagonist, who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano. It depicts true events in a fictional and dramatic way. It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.”

The heightened brain activity continued for 5 days after finishing the novel. This proved that reading had both an immediate reaction and a lasting influence. 

Neuroscientist Peter Burns, the lead author of the study said, “Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity. We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.”

We’ve known that reading makes us smarter, but now we know why. 

Photo sourced here.