Friday, January 10, 2014

Read Your Way to Faster Running

Last week my mother sent me a link to an article discussing a recent experiment where scientists had people read an exciting novel and see how their brains responded to the novel using functional MRIs. After becoming interested in the article's title "Your brain has a biological response to a good book" and its conclusions that you can trick your brain into thinking your being active,  I decided to find the actual research article which was published in Volume 3 of Brain Connectivity. Entitled "Short and Long-term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain" the researchers concluded that there were long-term changes in the connectivity of the brain after reading and these changes were located in both sides of the somatosensory cortex of the brain.

The somatosensory cortex is an unusual place to be activated during reading because it the sensory system for the skin, skeletal muscles, bones and joints, your heart and lungs and internal organs. Pretty much it is sensory motor skills. Instead you would think that the language parts of the brain, in conjunction with the visual cortex, would and should be the parts activated. And they were. But they were activated only short-term and had no long lasting effect on the brain. Meanwhile, the somatosensory cortex was activated and stayed more active for the five days after reading when they did the retest.

Researchers suggest a possible reason for the increase in the somatosensory cortex connectivity may be what they call embodied semantics. Embodied semantics is the theory that the act of reading a novel may place the "reader in the body of the protagonist"- that is, in effect, the reader is activating the parts of the brain that would produce the actions of the main character. Almost like he is running away from the flaming hot lava fields of Pompeii(that was the book they all had to read-supposedly quite thrilling). The brain was being activated in a way similar to when it actually is running away.

This is pretty cool when you think about it. Reading a book on running might engage that part of the brain used to run. Researchers have already shown that visualization can improve motor function and performance, wouldn't be great to get faster just by reading a book? That sounds right up my alley:)

I think the next area of study is to compare an exciting book with a boring book. I wonder whether the boring book will create long lasting changes to the area of the brain involved in sleep.

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