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The Benefits of Reading and your brain.

Neuroscientists have discovered that reading a novel can improve brain function on a variety of levels. The recent study on the brain benefits of reading fiction was conducted at Emory University. The study (link is external) titled, “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” was recently published in the journal Brain Connectivity.

The researchers found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Interestingly, reading fiction was found to improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports.

Modern day reading habits continue to evolve in a digital age. Statistics vary on exactly how many people are reading novels this decade compared to decades past. There is a definite trend for general readers to buy more fiction than nonfiction books—and to get facts, news and crystallized knowledge from the internet. In 2012, only four of the top twenty books were nonfiction titles.

“People are interested in escape,” says Carol Fitzgerald of the Book Report Network. “In a number of pages, the story will open, evolve and close, and a lot of what’s going on in the world today is not like that. You’ve got this encapsulated escape that you can enjoy.”

When Was the Last Time You Read a Good Novel?

Are you someone who likes to read novels? Surprisingly, 42% (link is external) of college graduates will never read a book again after graduating college. A 2012 “Pew Internet and American Life Project” survey (link is external) found that people who like to read fiction are driven by personal enrichment and described what they liked about reading saying things like: “I love being exposed to ideas and being able to experience so many times, places, and events.” Another person was quoted as saying, “I look at it as a mind stimulant, and it is relaxing.” Others expressed the pleasure of living vicariously through a character and having another “life of the mind.”

According to the study, reading is a lifestyle choice that is also driven by a desire to unplug from a constant stream of visual information. Readers said things like: “It’s better for me to imagine things in my head than watch them on TV … It’s an alternate to TV that beats TV every time … Reading is better than anything electronic.” One respondent captured the general sentiment of avid fiction readers by saying, “I love being able to get outside myself.”

One of the benefits of getting outside yourself by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes through a novel is that it improves theory of mind (link is external). As the father of a 6-year-old, I realize the imaginative and cognitive benefits of children losing themselves in a good story and learning to empathize with a fictional character. Although lots of people are still reading fiction, this new study confirms that people of all ages should be encouraged to increase reading time while striving to reduce TV time.

The average American home has 2.86 TV sets, which is roughly 18% higher than in the year 2000 (2.43 sets per home), and 43% higher than in 1990 (2.0 sets). In America, there are currently more televisions per home than human beings. On average, children under the age of 8 spend over 90 minutes a day watching television or DVDs.

Nearly 33% of American children live in a household where the television is on all or most of the time. Children between the ages 8-18 years old watch an average of three hours of television a day. On average, 61% of children under two use some type of screen technology and 43% watch television every day. This is disturbing to me.

One of the problems of watching television is that it reduces theory of mind. Theory of mind (often abbreviated “ToM”) is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own.

Unfortunately, television is the least interactive of any new media and is the one most likely to reduce theory of mind. A paper (link is external) titled “The Relation Between Television Exposure and Theory of Mind Among Preschoolers” was published in November 2013 in the Journal of Communication. The researchers found that preschoolers who have a TV in their bedroom and are exposed to more background TV have a weaker understanding of other people’s beliefs and desires, and reduced cognitive development.

Reading Improves Brain Connectivity

The changes caused by reading a novel were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensorimotor 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, or embodied cognition.

An example of embodied cognition is similar to visualization in sports—just thinking about playing basketball, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of playing basketball.

“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 S. Berns, lead author of the study. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes improves theory of mind.

“Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person,” said Dr. Berns, director of Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy in Atlanta. He added, “We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”

The storytelling aspect of a novel is a multi-faceted form of communication that engages a broad range of brain regions. Although several linguistic and literary theories describe what constitutes a story, neurobiological research has just begun to identify the brain networks that are active when processing stories.

Reading improves brain connections in red.

To determine a time frame of which connectivity in the brain lasted the longest, the researchers measured changes in resting-state connectivity before and after reading a novel. The researchers chose a novel over a short story because the length and depth of the novel would allow them to a set of repeated engagements with associated, unique stimuli (sections of the novel) set in a broader, controlled stimulus context that could be consumed between several periods in a brain scan.

The researchers took fMRI scans of the brains of 21 undergraduate students while they rested. Then the students were asked to read sections of the 2003 thriller novel “Pompeii” by Robert Harris over nine nights. The students’ brains were scanned each morning following the nightly reading assignment, and then again daily for five days after they had finished the book.

Conclusion: Reading Improves Embodied Cognition and Theory of Mind

The scans revealed heightened connectivity within the students’ brains on the mornings following the reading assignments. The areas with enhanced connectivity included the students’ left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with language comprehension, as well as in the brain’s central sulcus, which is associated with sensations and movement.

“The anterior (front) bank of the sulcus contains neurons that control movement of parts of the body,” Berns noted. Adding, “The posterior (rear) bank contains neurons that receive sensory input from the parts of the body. Enhanced connectivity here was a surprise finding, but it implies that, perhaps, the act of reading puts the reader in the body of the protagonist.”

The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes through embodied cognition is key to improving theory of mind and also the ability to be compassionate. Although this study does not directly draw these conclusions, it seems like common sense that if we encourage our children to read—as opposed to tuning out through television—theory of mind and the ability to be compassionate to another person’s suffering will improve.

Reading a good novel allows your imagination to take flight. Novels allow you to forget about your day-to-day troubles and to transport yourself to a fantasy world that becomes a reality in your mind’s eye. Rarely is the movie adaptation of a book ever quite as good as the original novel. Even the most advanced special effects will always fall short of the visual power of your own imagination.

Berns concluded, “At a minimum, we can say that reading stories—especially those with strong narrative arcs—reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.”

Finding a good novel can be tough. I generally only finish about a third of the books I start. Goodreads did a year end ‘Best Fiction of 2013 (link is external)’ reader’s choice awards which has some terrific suggestions for novels that you might enjoy.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blogs:

“One More Reason to Unplug Your Television”
“How Does Daydreaming Help Form Long-Term Memories?”
“The Neuroscience of Imagination”
“Childhood Creativity Leads to Innovation in Adulthood”
“Too Much Crystallized Thinking Lowers Fluid Intelligence”
“Primitive Brain Area Linked to Human Intelligence”

Follow me on Twitter @ckbergland (link is external) for updates on The Athlete’s Way blog posts.

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The Athlete’s Way
Sweat and the biology of bliss
Christopher Bergland

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.
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Combination of Treatments for MS Patients.

Investigating a Novel Combination of Treatments for MS Patients

stem cell therapyFrequently utilized MS treatments are prescribed with the goal of disease stabilization. However, they may share a common deficiency: lack of effectiveness in addressing many of the symptoms associated with the disease. Additionally they may lead to a troubling array of side effects which in themselves can negatively impact quality of life.

Newer treatments are now being investigated that seek to address many of the most debilitating symptoms related to MS. Since these novel therapies do not involve long-term treatment with pharmacological agents, they present a possible option for MS patients who are either unable to tolerate the side-effects of MS medications or who are unsatisfied with the results of their current therapies.

Dr. Michael Arata of Autonomic Specialists in Newport Beach, California has been investigating a therapeutic approach that targets many of the more troublesome symptoms suffered by MS patients, particularly those related to autonomic dysfunction (including brain fog, fatigue, headaches upon awakening, bladder and bowel problems, and inability to thermoregulate). This endovascular therapy, called Transvascular Autonomic Modulation (TVAM), has been shown to improve symptoms in a majority of patients, according to research published in Acta Phlebologica.

More recently, Dr. Arata has been investigating a surgical treatment involving the use of adult mesenchymal stem cells in conjunction with the Cell Surgical Network. This treatment involves mesenchymal stem cells in a stromal vascular fraction (SVF) that is produced from the patient’s own fat cells (extracted via a mini-liposuction procedure).

Mesenchymal stem cells and growth factors contained in SVF are known to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Mesenchymal stem cells also have the capacity to remain dormant until they reach an area of injured or damaged tissue.

Now Dr. Arata is investigating an approach for patients with MS that includes both TVAM therapy and the SVF/mesenchymal stem cell treatment in a single outpatient visit.

It is possible that including both mesenchymal stem cell therapy and the TVAM procedure may lead to an enhanced effect. Therapeutic synergy might be achieved through both the anti-inflammatory effects of the SVF and the reparative capabilities of mesenchymal stem cells along with enhanced autonomic function seen in patients following TVAM.

If you would like to find out more about this new therapeutic approach, feel free to contact us through this web form (click here) or call us at (949) 247-8877.

Dr Michael Arata Synergy Health Newport Beach CADr. Arata responds personally to Facebook comments between the hours of 3:30-5pm PST on Thursdays.

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Vestiublar disorders and public tranportation.

Have your vestibular symptoms impacted your ability to drive? Do you have to ask friends and family for help? If so, you’re not alone.

Striving for independence with driving limitations has been quite the ride,” says Kim S., who recently wrote about her experience “mastering the metro” (i.e. public transportation). Check it out: http://trektobalance.tumblr.com/…/126451478…/mastering-metro

Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA)'s photo.
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Take Action for hearing loss and the CDC

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study on the prevalence of disability in the U.S. The study examined vision loss, cognition, mobility, self-care and independent living, but failed to mention hearing loss, the third most common public health concern after diabetes and heart disease.

Join the Hearing Health Foundation in letting the CDC know that hearing loss is a serious concern that affects quality of life, ability to work, and a person’s full participation in society by signing their petition: https://www.change.org/p/centers-for-disease-control-and-pr…

Recently, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) learned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study on the prevalence of disability in…
change.org

 

Check out this cool “Defeat Dizziness” car decal, designed by VEDA Ambassador Chair, David Morrill’s sister! Make a donation of $15 or more to David’s personal campaign page and he’ll send you a decal as a thank you gift.

https://vestibular.org/civicrm/pcp/info?reset=1&id=129

Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA)'s photo.

 

 

Dr. Rachael Trommelen is conducting a survey to assess physician knowledge of and experience with diagnosing vestibular disorders. If you are a patient or healthcare provider, you can help by sharing this article with your physician and/or colleagues.

Thank you!

https://vestibular.org/…/physician-survey-about-vestibular-…

Posted by Cynthia RyanAug. 13, 2015 | 4:00pm Dr. Rachael Trommelen is conducting a survey to…
vestibular.org

 

 

Earlier in 2015

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Vestibular disorders and cognitive impacts!!!

Did you know? People with vestibular disorders can suffer cognitive impacts, such as poor concentration, memory, and word recall; difficulty reading while tracking printed text; and impaired mental stamina. They may also develop anxiety due to the constant fear of having a vertigo attack. For helpful tips, visit http://vestibular.org/…/Cognitive%20Aspects%20of%20Vestibul…

Brought to you by Balance Awareness Week Presenting Sponsor – MicroMedical Technologies.

Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA)'s photo.
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Supporting people with invisible illnesses