If you ever needed a good reason to join a book club (besides the wine, duh), a new study by Emory University is giving you a great one. It looked at how reading fiction impacts the brain in the long term, rather than just examining how it changes during reading. It found that after reading, study subjects had increased connectivity between the language center of the brain, and the parts of the brain associated with physical sensation and movement, suggesting that by thinking about actions in the book such as swimming, triggered neural responses similar to actually swimming. This is called embodied semantics, and it demonstrates that when you embody characters in your imagination, your mind might also be imitating their actions biologically.
This has been demonstrated while reading in previous studies. When people read words like perfume or coffee, the area of the brain that receives those smells became active. However, this study examined how the brain changes might stick around after reading is complete. It found that the effect remained in the brains of study participants five days after finishing the book, suggesting that reading can impact the brain not just while you’re enjoying that novel, but for the long-term afterwards. If you think of how enriched you feel when you’re tearing through a good book, just imagine those positive effects lasting long after you finished. Seems like an excellent motivation to pick up that bestseller to me!