Do you have a favorite story, one that you read once and never forgot or that you’ve read over and over again?
What about your child? Does he have a story he wants you to read to him every single night or one he’s read to himself till the book is practically falling apart?
A recent study from Emory University has found that stories like these stick with us in more than just memory. They actually have the power to change the brain. Books change neural networks.
In the study, 20 college students read an action-packed novel set in ancient Pompeii. The hero knows that Mount Vesuvius is about the erupt and tries desperately to get back to the city in time to save his girlfriend. Students read sections of the novel over nine evenings, and underwent brain scans each morning when they were just resting. These brain scans were compared to five resting scans that had been done before the reading sessions began and five more scans that were done after the reading sessions were over.
The brain scans showed greater connectivity in two areas of the brain during the nine days of reading, even though they were not reading anything at the time of the scans. These areas were the language centers and also the sensory motor region. These two regions indicate changes in verbal thinking and also in physical experience. In addition, this increased brain connection continued in the five sessions after the reading sessions were completed. Reading had an effect on the brain that was long-lasting.
According to the lead researcher, neuroscientist Gregory Berns,”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. 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.”
What does this mean for us parents?
First, reading is a good thing. It takes us places and lets us experience things we never could in real life. Make sure your children read.
Second, reading “page-turners” and books that really connect with us is better than reading something just because it’s supposed to be good for us. If a book doesn’t connect with your child, find another one that does.
Third, reading the same book over and over isn’t a bad thing. It might even be good. it might be solidifying brain development that is positive and helpful. Some authorities believe that books that call to us and stick with us fill a particular need. There’s no need to derail our love for these books.
Finally, if you’re not reading something right now – and if your child isn’t reading something right now – see if you can fix that. Grow your brain. Read.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.