May 21, 2024

Senior News Line: Books as brain food

Many people can recall reading at least one cherished story that they say changed their life. Researchers at Emory University detected what may be biological traces related to this feeling — actual changes in the brain that linger, at least for a few days, after reading a novel.

Now here’s a “novel” way to increase our brain function. It doesn’t involve getting more exercise or eating certain foods. It doesn’t include doing puzzles. We only need to grab a book and start flipping pages.

Emory University did a study that showed how there are “quantifiable changes” in brain activity when participants read a book. Granted, it was a bit more regimented than just grabbing your favorite author’s latest bestseller.

In the study, participants were given a baseline brain scan each day for a few days. Then they were given the thriller “Pompeii” by Robert Harris with instructions to read 30 pages a night.

Each morning they were given another brain scan. After the book was finished — about nine days — they were given more scans to see how the brain reacted.

Researchers were able to track which portions of the book the participants were reading and correlate them to the brain scan images.

Here’s what they learned: During reading, and for days afterward, there were significant activity increases in the parts of the brain associated with story comprehension, as well as processing language.

According to the study, the reading has to be fiction to get these brain connectivity changes, something with a narrative that describes events unfolding, and a story we can identify with.

Here’s my thinking: While researchers don’t know yet how long these brain changes last after reading a novel, it’s at least five days.

Perhaps we should spend some time in 2024 rereading the novels that had an impact on us, as well as new narrative fiction and a few of the old classics. The reference librarian is sure to be a good source for book suggestions.

Matilda Charles

© 2024 King Features Synd., Inc.