Are there little people in your house who aren’t thrilled with books? Here’s something that might change the game.
But as I’ve tried to explain countless times to the reluctant little readers in my family, it’s not just something you do in your head. Reading doesn’t just tell your mind a story; it unfolds a world for your mind to experience, a world with flavors, textures, sounds, and smells. A world as rich and fully realized as the world we live in every day, with brand new adventures to be had and brand new places to explore.
They look at me like I’m crazy. And the more passionate I grow in defense of reading, the more they doubt my sanity. But guess what? Thanks to research reported by ThriveGlobal, I can prove to them that reading isn’t just an intellectual experience — it’s also a physical one. Science says so.
The study’s lead author, neuroscientist Gregory Berns, says it also taps into a process known as grounded cognition.
“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. … 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.”
This is not surprising to me at all. I’ve been an avid, even voracious, reader since childhood, and there have been times when I’ve been struck by overwhelming deja vu because something I’m experiencing in life is similar to something I read in a book. Or I’ll have a memory I can’t quite place, and realize only later that it’s not my memory at all — it’s a memory of a character’s experience. When I read fiction, the experience is so real to me that I have physical memories of books as if they were my own.
I’m delighted by this study because it proves 1) that I’m not crazy and 2) that reading is an immersive experience that engages your entire body, not just your intellect. Your nervous system responds to fictional reality in some way, and so do your muscles. Sure, you’re not literally running through the streets screaming if your character is being chased, and you don’t come down with the plague by immersing yourself in a character who has it. But the world your mind inhabits through reading is real enough to create physical sensations and make concrete memories of places you’ve never been, and people you’ve never known.
Reading isn’t something you should do every day because it’s good for you, like exercise or taking vitamins. It’s magic, like alchemy or time travel or teleportation. It’s a miracle, like water into wine or five loaves multiplied exponentially. If we present it like that, instead of prescribing it like a vaccine to be taken for 15 minutes per day, I hope more kids will read for the sheer joy of reading itself. I hope one day mine will, too.
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