You may remember that last week in Part 1 Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, our new Savvy Psychologist, wrote about a study that showed reading just a little bit of literary fiction—not just any fiction, but literary fiction—caused readers to do better on tests that measured empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence.
In addition to honing our social abilities, it turns out that fiction also leaves its mark on the brain itself.
How the Study Worked
In a different study from Emory University, researchers tracked the brain activity of research participants as they all read the same novel, Pompeii, by Robert Harris, over nine consecutive days. It worked like this: before the participants started reading the novel, they came in for five mornings in a row to lie in a brain scanner. These scans allowed the scientists to establish a baseline; in other words, these were the “before” measurements of their brains. Then, every night for nine nights, the participants were asked to read a section of the novel. And every morning for the next nine mornings, their brains were scanned to see where blood flow was activated. When they had finished the novel, the “after” measurements were taken—five more days of scans to see if brain changes lasted.