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Brain Function "Boosted For Days After Reading a Novel" 110

Posted by samzenpus
from the fifty-shades-of-grey-matter dept.
cold fjord writes "The Independent reports, 'Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading ... The new research, carried out at Emory University ... found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory. The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the primary sensory motor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition — for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running. "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," said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study. "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."'"
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Brain Function "Boosted For Days After Reading a Novel"

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:42AM (#45818243)
    I have to believe that programming and puzzle solving have similar effects. Also, I have to believe that being elected to any government position has the opposite effect.
    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:22PM (#45818963)

      Being elected to government requires imagining what everybody wants, then projecting that image as convincingly as possible. It requires considerable brain power to achieve this, but comes at the expense of diminished capacity in other areas....

      • ... but comes at the expense of diminished capacity in other areas....

        That's what the cocaine and Viagra are for.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      I have to believe that programming and puzzle solving have similar effects.

      I get the same effect from reading a good datasheet.

      (The plots are usually quite linear though so they won't be to everybody's taste...)

  • I wonder if a similar thing happens when playing video games?
    • by Threni (635302)

      Or dropping acid?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Dunno. Researchers never left the University, and the gamers never left their basements...

    • Yes [cnet.com], although apparently the type of game matters.
  • by ls671 (1122017) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:57AM (#45818365) Homepage

    Well, my brain is boosted for days after writing a neat piece of code.

    • by boristdog (133725) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:03AM (#45818411)

      The brain must be boosted after writing neat code. Because months or years later I often forget the slick solution I came up with, and I'm totally confused when I look at the code again. Then the little light comes on when I figure out what I did and I think "Gee, I was pretty clever!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by DrPBacon (3044515)
        Beautiful code needs no comments.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If someone other than you is going to have to maintain it one day, then yes, yes it does. In a professional environment, the answer is always yes.

          Just because I can figure out what a piece of code is doing doesn't mean I'll know why that was the chosen implementation. No comments means I and anyone else who has to look at it have to waste time figuring out if the person had a good reason for a certain approach or they just didn't know what they were doing.

          Code tells the what. Comments tell the why. Both are

          • Before you can tell why, you have to know why...

            • by icebike (68054)

              Before you can tell why, you have to know why...

              Knowing Why is often not that important. Why something was done in a particular way (or done at all) may have (usually has) more to do with who wrote the code, their particular proclivities, or prior experience, (or, just as often, the lack thereof).

              Programmer's razor: Never attribute to genius what is adequately explained by befuddled hacking about until something works. The more programmers that have touched the code, the more likely this is to be true.

              My own rule of thumb is when encountering non-tran

          • Is there a deep seated conflict of interest though? Do good comments affect job security? It would seem that to get a promotion, you need others to follow up on the work you have completed. But this all goes away when you are let go or outsourced. There ... I said it!
        • by bayankaran (446245) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:43PM (#45819127) Homepage
          Better...beautiful comment needs no code.
      • "Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it." --Brian Kernighan

      • by thoughtlover (83833) on Monday December 30, 2013 @03:25PM (#45820917)

        The brain must be boosted after writing neat code. Because months or years later I often forget the slick solution I came up with, and I'm totally confused when I look at the code again. Then the little light comes on when I figure out what I did and I think "Gee, I was pretty clever!"

        I've found that my brain is boosted (often for up to as long as two weeks) after skiing or a long bike ride. I often find the solution to a problem soon after rigorous physical activity. It's also interesting to learn that physical activity aids cognitive health.

    • Maybe the real cause for your brain's increased connectivity was studying the fine manual.

  • Cumulative? (Score:5, Informative)

    by DavidClarkeHR (2769805) <david...clarke@@@hrgeneralist...ca> on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:00AM (#45818385)
    The big question - is this cumulative? I want to improve my IQ, so I'll read 3-4 books this week ... but wait a minute, this sounds like school.

    Also, this study was done on students. At university (or college, for our american viewers). And didn't eliminate free time or stress relief as possible factors. Also, it was done in the USA, which doesn't have the most homogenous distribution of literacy (or even a consistent measure for literacy).

    I'm not saying it's bad science, I'm just saying there's another article about junk science on slashdot ... today ... and they're linked by correlation (but not causation). Also? Topical XKCD comic [xkcd.com].
    • Right. Along those lines, probably variety in age too.
    • That is actually what I miss the most from the school days - enough free time to be able to read a different novel every day.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        That's one reason I'm really happy that I'm retiring in two months, more time to read, but more importantly more time to write. It took me four years to do Nobots [mcgrewbooks.com] simply because I had to waste my days chasing dollars.

    • I'm not saying it's bad science, I'm just saying there's another article about junk science on slashdo

      Or is it that you just didn't ready any of the study [liebertpub.com]?

    • Re:Cumulative? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Reapy (688651) on Monday December 30, 2013 @03:33PM (#45821003)

      Totally anecdotal, but when I get the bug to read a book and really get into it, it sort of reactivates my my imagination. I start writing a few more random things and will pull out a pencil and doodle in my 'design' book, or I just have much more clearly defined thoughts about stories to write or things to make. I've always just associated this with any kind of excitement, but thinking about it, reading definitely gives a different kind of 'awake' feeling than a good game or movie would.

      Coding doesn't really jolt my imagination, i typically feel good when a section is done and everything works well and is neatly organized, but have expended most of my energy in doing that, there isn't much left. When I read a book it is more coasting through someone elses work, so I feel awake mentally, ready to do something, rather than needing to randomly mash buttons in a game or something post coding.

  • So . . .

    just thinking about sex, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of sex

    Now, y'all excuse me, I'm off to "boost my brain" . . .

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      Just wait until the church lady finds out about thus and makes a connection to porn/smut. Maybe you will go blind, maybe you won't. Maybe it will make you a deviant, maybe it won't. But i can see the church lady from saturday night live railing about how special this is.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Yeah, doctors keep saying that, but when I asked one to help me solve that problem and boost my brain she slapped me!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm ridiculously creative after finishing a book or watching a movie. Priming strikes again.

  • So many books - so many lame, lame books.
    • by Rolgar (556636) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:54AM (#45818769)

      I've created a websiteabout the books I plan on making available to my children. It's called Fanatics4Classics [fanatics4classics.com]. The book covers are affiliate links to Amazon 1) because hopefully it will support the site and 2) I like to read Amazon reviews for books, and hopefully others will find them useful as well 3) Amazon has covers for most books, and using their bandwidth is free.

      I have an index (linked) of the best 800 fiction books and a huge history selection from Gutenberg (and torrents to download all of those books in either epub or mobi (for Kindle)).

      The Amazon links include all of the Gutenberg fiction (for those who like printed books or want to view the reviews) as well as another thousand books from the 20th century that are still under copyright. All of them are organized by reading level and genre.

      The site is not completed yet. I'm planning on linking to the best works of Science and other areas of study, a much more extensive list of history,and links to other sites my wife finds useful in homeschooling our kids.

      I'm doing this because my wife and I like the Thomas Jefferson Education [tjed.org] model, and while they have a good selection of books on their site, I felt it was incomplete. Anyway, browse around, find something interesting, and read a book.

  • More (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lonechicken (1046406) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:11AM (#45818481)
    They need a followup study. Just 21 people? How about listening to an audiobook? Does it have the same effect? When I'm bored at work and don't have to worry about distractions to my programming, I listen to audiobooks instead of music.
    • by mlts (1038732)

      I'd also like to see a control group and a larger sample size, with double-blind testing.

      This is a nice piece of info, but there is a big difference between an anecdote versus a properly conducted scientific study that can be checked off in a peer reviewed paper.

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:17AM (#45818517)

    I find that reading a good book is like a complete exercise workout for your brain, and I know I feel a lot sharper when I'm reading regularly.

    If I'm having trouble working through some problem or other then taking some time to read is always helpful, even if the subject of the book is unrelated to the problem at hand.

    It seems as though it needs to be something with a lot of prose but either fiction or non-fiction works.

    Moderately technical non-fiction is OK as long as it is interesting and mentally stimulating (makes you stop and think etc.).

    But pure technical books don't seem to help at all and may just clutter things up with new knowledge that the brain is trying to assimilate. So for example pretty much anything from O'Reilly will not make me feel generally smarter even though it may be very good at cramming in the domain specific knowledge I need for some project.

    So just reading tech books is not very helpful at all, and needs to be supplemented with more general works from my experience.

    G.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:49AM (#45818737)

      It seems as though it needs to be something with a lot of prose but either fiction or non-fiction works.

      Moderately technical non-fiction is OK as long as it is interesting and mentally stimulating (makes you stop and think etc.).

      But pure technical books don't seem to help at all and may just clutter things up with new knowledge that the brain is trying to assimilate. So for example pretty much anything from O'Reilly will not make me feel generally smarter even though it may be very good at cramming in the domain specific knowledge I need for some project.

      So just reading tech books is not very helpful at all, and needs to be supplemented with more general works from my experience.

      G.

      Even more interesting is that the effect measured only applies to paper books. When the same book is read from an e-format, there is no lasting effect. This coincides with other studies that show that reading an e-book utilizes different parts of the brain than an actual book. The e-book registers in the same areas used when watching tv or a movie. The pathways used to interpret the information presented are different.

      All of that said, however, researchers indicate that more study is needed to determine if there is a bias to such data (book vs e-book) because most subjects being tested, grew up with traditional books. They estimate it will be another 10 to 15 years before adult subjects could be studied to see if growing up primarily with e-books alters the brain function in the same way. In otherwords, are the results for books because the subjects tested had their neural pathways developed using books (in which case would the results be the same if they had been formed by e-books)?

      Regardless, though, the study shows that reading is good, or as they used to say in the 70s (in the US) Reading is FUNdamental.

      • Even more interesting is that the effect measured only applies to paper books. When the same book is read from an e-format, there is no lasting effect.

        Research or not the above is bullshit. I am reading Don Quixote right now - on an E Reader. I don't think my brain or me cares about how I read it.

        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          Even more interesting is that the effect measured only applies to paper books. When the same book is read from an e-format, there is no lasting effect.

          Research or not the above is bullshit. I am reading Don Quixote right now - on an E Reader. I don't think my brain or me cares about how I read it.

          You would be wrong. FMRI studies show that different areas of the brain are used depending on whether one reads a paper book or an e-book. Search slashdot, there were several articles related to those studies in the past.

      • Even more interesting is that the effect measured only applies to paper books. When the same book is read from an e-format, there is no lasting effect.

        Citation, please. It may simply be a matter of practice. About a year or so ago, I started reading e-books on my iPad. Initially, I noticed that I could not get 'absorbed' into the novel like with paper - a state of ignoring much of the outside world and concentrating on the book. After a while, I noticed that I could indeed do that and I enjoyed reading on the iPad. Now, I greatly prefer it (other than Amazon's crap method of inserting graphics - a bit of extra resolution won't hurt you guys) to readi

    • by keith_nt4 (612247)

      I wanted to agree with that workout for your brain comment but in a different context: A few years ago I was participating in "National Novel Writing Month". Normally I don't try to be creative at all (successfully utilizing Linux in a lengthy project not withstanding) but for the 30 days of November I wrote for four hours a day creatively for the whole month (the goal is 50k words in 30 days. I finished in about 27). About two weeks in I started having some really weird/messed up dreams.

      I was thinking abou

  • by umafuckit (2980809) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:30AM (#45818587)
    What does "boosted" actually mean? Fuck all. It's impressive that the task is sensitive enough to show up changes in the brain after reading a book, but scientifically it's not surprising: if you read a book and remembered something about it then there will be physical changes in your brain. There have to be. We've known that for decades. e.g. In 1997 it was shown that environmental enrichment causes production of new neurons in the hippocampus (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v386/n6624/abs/386493a0.html).
    • by cold fjord (826450) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:22PM (#45818965)

      What does "boosted" actually mean? Fuck all

      The study is linked to in the story. Are you saying that the abstract [liebertpub.com] (extract below) or paper [liebertpub.com] give enough details for you, or didn't you read them?

      On the days after the reading, significant increases in connectivity were centered on hubs in the left angular/supramarginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri. These hubs corresponded to regions previously associated with perspective taking and story comprehension, and the changes exhibited a timecourse that decayed rapidly after the completion of the novel. Long-term changes in connectivity, which persisted for several days after the reading, were observed in bilateral somatosensory cortex, suggesting a potential mechanism for “embodied semantics.”

      • What does "boosted" actually mean? Fuck all

        The study is linked to in the story. Are you saying that the abstract [liebertpub.com] (extract below) or paper [liebertpub.com] give enough details for you, or didn't you read them?

        Hmm, something is up. I read the summary and the article. After reading your post I re-read the article looking for the details you linked. I still don't see them. Thanks for those links, cold fjord.

        • The link is small, and towards the end of the summary. I am happy to oblige. I hope you enjoyed it.

          I will wish you a Happy New Year!

      • No, I did look at them. The newspaper's summary is shitty but you can see where it comes from in the original article. For example, the last sentence "but our results suggest a potential mechanism by which reading stories not only strengthen language processing regions but also affect the individual through embodied semantics in sensorimotor regions." The way I see it, "strengthen language processing regions" is just as wishy-washy as the term "boosted."

        I want to like fMRI but, for many reasons, the tec

    • What does "environmental enrichment" mean? Better nutrition? A nanny called GLaDOS? Your link does not say, and I'm rather skeptical of your argument. Given the vocabulary and glut of random facts I have picked up from reading, I'd say TFS's reported result is hardly surprising, but still significant to keep in mind for educational purposes
      • Normally rats and mice are kept in a bland cage, usually with other litter mates. "Environmental enrichment" means they get lots of toys to play with. e.g. running wheels, bars to run along, perhaps painted walls, etc, etc. The effects of environmental enrichment on brain structure have been shown many, many, times using different techniques and in different brain regions. Another pair of references, which I tried to track down but couldn't (I forgot the author names, oops), showed that neurons in cortex sp
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Band practice on a weeknight typically means my head hits the pillow at 1:30 AM but the creative rush totally compensates for the sleep deprivation.

  • Hold on, wait a sec, be right back
  • 100 died just reading your comment and making this post.

  • So my reading list would be:

    The Talented Mr. Ripley
    The Prince
    Soon I will be Invincible
    The Call of Cthulhu
    Richard III

  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:51PM (#45819175)

    Any kind of sustained, concentrated thinking does this. The brain is very reactive and adapts quickly , instantly to stresses put on it in terms of not only coordination , balance and physical skill but also higher cognitive functions, abstract reasoning, emotional reasoning, meditation, self control, anything you can name. I have noticed generally the more vascular and active the tissue, the faster it adapts. Brains change like that. Muscles recover after 5 or so days. Tendons take weeks to heal. Bones take a even longer to heal (change).

    • Any kind of sustained, concentrated thinking does this. The brain is very reactive and adapts quickly , instantly to stresses put on it in terms of not only coordination , balance and physical skill but also higher cognitive functions, abstract reasoning, emotional reasoning, meditation, self control, anything you can name. I have noticed generally the more vascular and active the tissue, the faster it adapts. Brains change like that.

      How on earth do you know this? It sounds like a hypothesis you're making up.

      • The vascular part I am guessing / noting / observing.. it's a ,thing I noted a long time ago is all.

        The rest of it is information readily available . The general topic goes by the name of neural plasticity which is broken down into functional and structural .

        It's not the thing I research specifically so I am not loaded down with bookmarks for you but I know all about it from undergrad

        For people with no neuroscience background there's books like The Brain That Changes Itself and of course it's a bi

  • by Nyder (754090) on Monday December 30, 2013 @01:05PM (#45819337) Journal

    I find after I read a good book that I keep thinking about it for days. Usually on things I think the chars should of did, or how to deal with situation they did.

    I rarely get that way after movies or video games, but sometimes I do. (Half-Life 2 I did, really enjoyed that game).

    So basically if there is a good story, my mind will keep thinking on it for a few days.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      I find after I read a good book that I keep thinking about it for days. Usually on things I think the chars should of did, or how to deal with situation they did.

      I rarely get that way after movies or video games, but sometimes I do. (Half-Life 2 I did, really enjoyed that game).

      So basically if there is a good story, my mind will keep thinking on it for a few days.

      hit enter too soon. Thing about good books is that I usually wish they didn't end. So that could be why I think on it more then I would any other books.

  • I wonder if the effect is the same when other media is used. Will audiobooks do the trick? How about television or movies? If the only criteria is a good story that can transport you into the body of the protagonist then I suspect they would work the same. Given that they were engaging enough, that is.
  • by PJ6 (1151747) on Monday December 30, 2013 @03:01PM (#45820619)
    after reading Slashdot comments. I feel dumber for days.
    • It's worse than that. I often see dumb ideas propagate from person to person. We have discovered "social media diseases."

  • How about watching an episode of Mentalist, or NCIS or some other show with comparable content? How about watching an episode of Simpsons or Family guy? How about Aqua Teen Hunger Force?
  • by koan (80826)

    Watching TV has the opposite effect.

  • by Old Wolf (56093) on Monday December 30, 2013 @04:17PM (#45821499)

    ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.’

  • ... But then I don't have a brain. :P

  • by neminem (561346)

    Shorter summary: "doing things changes your brain". Obviously it does, or we'd all be living like that guy from Memento. #notnews

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