Scientists have proven in the past that reading stimulates many different parts of the brain. In a 2006 study, for example, research subjects read the words “perfume” and “coffee,” and the part of their brains devoted to the sense of smell lit up. While these studies have focused on brain activity while a person is reading, a new study suggests that reading doesn’t just make a fleeting impression. It may make long-term changes to to the brain.
The new study out of Emory University looks at how the brain changes function and structure over the course of reading a novel. Researchers asked 21 Emory undergraduates to come in for fMRIs over 19 days. For the first five days, researchers took baseline fMRIs of the students’ brains. Over the following nine days, participants read 30 pages of the Robert Harris’s novel Pompeii at night and then completed a quiz to ensure they had completed the reading. They underwent fMRIs the next morning. After finishing the novel, participants continued to come in for fMRIs for five more days.
Past studies of the intersection between reading and brain structure have focused on brain activity while reading: Participants would read short stories while researchers took fMRIs of their brains. This study, however, evaluated the possibility of a longer-lasting impact from reading.