IWSG: Brain Power

InsecureWritersSupportGroupToday’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  It’s a way for insecure writers like myself give each other advice and encouragement.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

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Being a writer is hard, frustrating work.  We have a lot of sleepless nights, we agonize over the proper use of the comma and semicolon, and we spend hours paging through dictionaries and thesauri looking for just the right word to describe how our main character is feeling.  But sometimes, in moments of writerly insecurity, we might wonder why we do this.  What good is all this writing for?  How is the world a better place because of what we writers do?  A recent scientific study may provide an answer.

Researchers at Emory University claim that reading a novel increases the connectivity between different parts of a reader’s brain.  The researchers had nineteen test subjects read the same book, a novelization of the destruction of Pompeii, and monitored their brain activity using an MRI machine.  Each night, the test subjects would read a specified number of chapters; then, in the morning, they’d report for their MRIs.  The results not only showed changes in brain activity while reading but for several days afterward.

Mr Crab Loves to Read

Now it’s worth noting that the experiment has a few problems.  There were only nineteen test subjects, which hardly constitutes a fair sampling of the total population.  There was no control group, meaning we can’t say for certain what other factors might have contributed to the changes in brain activity the researchers observed.  There are also concerns about the “resting state MRI” technique used to collect data for the experiment.

Clearly more research is required, but if I may hazard a purely unscientific guess, I’d say reading does improve brain activity, and it probably does have the long-term effects the researchers at Emory suggest that they’ve found.  I’d even speculate that it doesn’t matter what you read, so long as you read something.  Whether your choice is War and Peace or 50 Shades of Grey, you will experience an increase in brain connectivity that will last for at least several days after you finish reading.

If reading really does improve brain connectivity, just imagine how much smarter the whole world would be if we all read one book per week.  That’s what our writing is good for.  That’s how writers like us help make the world a better place.  The service we provide is not merely a few hundred pages worth of entertainment.  We are giving people a tool that, according to at least one scientific study, creates fundamental changes in people’s brain function.

P.S.: Click here to see the original scientific paper on this subject.

10 thoughts on “IWSG: Brain Power

  1. I think novels can also help us see into another person’s point of view in a way that non-fiction can’t, so they probably help make us more empathetic (empathic?) as well as smarter.


  2. Interesting correlations. Reading probably compresses real life activities into fast hits of experience. Writing must do even more to our brains, as well as making more reading material available to the world. It’s a total win/win.


  3. I read about that study a while ago, very interesting stuff. I love the idea that we’re not just providing entertainment and escapism, we’re actually making peoples’ brains work better. ^_^


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