How Does Reading Affect the Brain?

Reading enhances connectivity in the brain, improves brain function and also improves theory of mind — the understanding that people may have beliefs and values different from the reader's own. A study conducted at Emory University and published in the journal "Brain Connectivity" first detailed some of these positive effects on the brain.

Researchers conducted the study by performing MRI scans on a group of undergraduates who had all read the same novel. Researchers first conducted analyses of the students' brains while they were in a resting state, without having read the novel. Then they performed scans over the course of nine days after instructing students to read certain portions of the book. The scans taken after the students had been instructed to read showed a heightened level of activity in the left temporal cortex, a part of the brain associated with language receptivity. Researches also observed increased connectivity in the central sulcus, the primary sensory motor area of the brain responsible for representing bodily sensations. Even in the days after the students had stopped reading the novel, their scans still showed indications of heightened connectivity.

Reading fiction also improves theory of mind, according to Psychology Today. Through reading fictional stories and empathizing with fictional characters, readers can learn to better understand the unique perceptions and desires of other humans.