NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, October 12, 2015

How Reading Literature Has a Positive Effect on Your Brain

I've always been a proponent of having children learn to read for pleasure early in their lives. I've always enjoyed reading from the time I was in the first grade.  My interest in reading was encouraged by my mother, who would read to me everyday when I was a young child, and who each week brought me to the library, a place that seemed magical and filled with possibilities to me.

Reading Literature Has a Positive Effect on Your Brain

I was also fortunate to have a first grade teacher who recognized my love of reading and gave me beautifully illustrated books that were a little challenging for me at the time, like "Heidi" and "Pippi Longstockings," to inspire me to continue reading.

Reading Literature Has a Positive Effect on the Brain

Without the present day distractions of video games and the Internet, my imagination came alive and took flight as I read about characters who lived in places that were so different where I lived.  This also created a curiosity in me about people, customs and places outside of my immediate surroundings.

Reading and Brain Research
We now have research from neuroscience which reveals that brain scans taken while people read a detailed description, a metaphor or an emotional conversation between two characters in a story stimulate the brain.

The Broca's area and the Wernicke's area, among other areas of the brain, are parts of the brain that are involved in interpreting narratives.

Reading Literature Has a Positive Effect on the Brain

According to Annie Murphy Paul, a journalist who writes for the NY Times, the brain doesn't make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and actually living the experience.  She says that the same parts of the brain are stimulated.

This is similar to hypnotherapy, where the unconscious mind, including imagination, are engaged in a hypnotic state and the brain doesn't distinguish between the imagined images or metaphors and actual lived experience.  This is one of the reasons why clinical hypnosis is effective.

Reading Literature Has a Positive Effect on the Brain

As most people who love literature know, reading also gives us an opportunity to enter into the experience  of the protagonist, especially if it contains rich metaphors and descriptions and lively conversations between characters.

Entering into the protagonist's world, we can have an intimate emotional experience of his or her relationships, insights, doubts, fears, joys and sorrows.

By having this intimate emotional experience, we can't help to compare the protagonist's experience with our own.

It's often easier to develop psychological insights when the experiences are outside of ourselves, like, for instance, when we see a protagonist struggle and overcome a particular emotional dilemma, than it is when we're going through it ourselves.

In doing so, we can also develop insight into our own personal experiences, notice something that we've never thought of before or see an experience in a completely new light.

Good literature has a way of transporting us into new psychological states as well as new places in a way that reading nonfiction usually doesn't.

I'll continue this theme with specific examples in a future article.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.