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article imageOp-Ed: Read a good book? It may have literally changed your mind

By Paul Wallis     Jan 7, 2014 in Science
Sydney - New research indicates that books have a real effect on the human mind. Some books actually rewire the human brain. Some rewiring lasts for a few days, but does “the book that changed your life” really change you?
The fact that many stories do generate emotional and other biological reactions may well have other ramifications — if books can do this, what about movies, TV, etc.?
Science Daily:
"Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person," says neuroscientist Gregory Berns, lead author of the study and the director of Emory's Center for Neuropolicy. "We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it."
The Emory study focused on the lingering neural effects of reading a narrative. Twenty-one Emory undergraduates participated in the experiment, which was conducted over 19 consecutive days.
The book read by the subjects was Pompeii, by Robert Harris.
"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," Berns says. "We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else's shoes in a figurative sense. Now we're seeing that something may also be happening biologically."
For all those who’ve really built themselves into a favorite story, the emotional content also relates to a lot of biological processes. Emotions are also hormonally based. It’s not too surprising that everyone remembers a favorite book from their hormonally-supercharged teen years, for example, in context with these findings.
I read some of my all-time and still favorite books at around age 12:
White Fang
Three Men in a Boat
Brave New World
Asimov’s Foundation trilogy
These were unforgettable experiences. There's no doubt they were all major influences on even the way I see writing. I'm quite sure that everyone has had similar experiences. The emotions are also very much part of the reading experience. There's a famous New Yorker joke: "She's reading a book that's breaking her heart, but we don't know where she hides it." Says a lot about the depth of effects books can have.
The theory and history of the association of ideas is old. The fact that people make direct associations with role models and anti-role models is well known. This research may well lead to a better understanding of something all writers and readers have known for years — how people interpret their books is always totally individual, and totally subjective.
It’s a story well worth researching. The question of to what extent books and reading affect the mind long term remains unresolved. Maybe it's better that way, but what about the effects of propaganda, subliminal information, and other types of "reading"?
Some questions really do ask themselves.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Gregory Berns, books and reading, neurology of reading, Emory's Center for Neuropolicy
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