Reading Fiction, Brain Function, Cognitive Growth, and Jane Eyre

Do you think reading has any positive effects, apart from being a pleasurable experience?

Do you think reading a novel or poetry can improve your minds?

Whether you do or not, do you have any proof?

Many of us believe that reading for pleasure is beneficial to adults and children, but what evidence do we have that this is true?

This article will offer some objective evidence to support the value and importance of reading fiction.

First of all, let’s imagine a ten-year-old girl who has read the following three books: Bewick’s History of British Birds,Goldsmith’s History of Rome, and Gulliver’s Travels, as well as her Bible, at least, would you say she had a bright future?

My last post, The Books Jane Eyre Read. Part One: At Gateshead Hall.  is about the books young Jane had read by such an early age, and how they affected her personality, and related to her life experiences.

If she continued reading, which she did, could we conclude she’d grow up to be a very clever woman? Yes?

Gullivers_travelsroman historyBeitish birds

Read on for proof.

A study by neuroscientists published in December 2013 in the Scientific Journal, Brain Connectivity, has concluded that reading a novel can improve brain function on a variety of levels.

Interviewed in Psychology Today, Dr. Berns, one of the researchers, considers, “Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person.” So his motivation was to carry out his theory and “understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”

Professor Berns, and some colleagues at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, used brain scanning to investigate how reading a book affects our brains, and found that becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain, and improves brain function.

The 19 volunteers’ brains were scanned each morning following the nightly reading assignment, and then again daily for five days after they had finished the book. Each morning before their scan, the participants completed a quiz about the chapter and their feelings. The final five days the volunteers had daily scans again without any quizzes or reading, in order to assess lasting effects.

Reading fiction increases empathy, enabling the reader to put themselves in another person’s shoes, and understand their behavior. It also increases language function. These effects were seen to last at least five days after reading Pompeii by Robert Harris over nine nights. (Imagine what it could do for those of us who read more than a book a week!).

Small Bookshelf

Some of my current and all-time favourites

Last year, A UK Institute of Education  published the results of a longitudinal study, started in 1970, which found that children who read for pleasure made more progress in maths, vocabulary, and spelling, between the ages of 10 and 16, than those who rarely read.

The study also showed that Children who were read to regularly by their parents at age 5 performed better in all three tests at age 16 than those who were not helped in this way.

Another longitudinal study published by researchers at the University of Berkley, California, and the University of Ontario, ‘What reading does for the mind’, concludes that lifelong reading habits are strong predictors of a wide range of cognitive abilities, which are accumulated over time —spiraling either upward or downward, depending on whether they read or not.

We now have solid evidence to support the cognitive benefits of reading, for our young Jane Eyre, and anyone else who loves reading.

Read on…


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