Many people can recall reading at least one cherished story that they say changed their life.
Now researchers at Emory University have detected the may be actual changes in the brain that linger, at least for a few days, after reading a novel.
“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 Centre for Neuropolicy. “We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”
“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.”
21 students took part in the study, with all participants reading the same book - Pompeii, a 2003 thriller by Robert Harris, which was chosen for its page turning plot.
“The story follows a protagonist, who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano,” said Prof Berns. “It depicts true events in a fictional and dramatic way. It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.”
Over 19 days the students read a portion of the book in the evening then had fMRI scans the following morning. Once the book was finished, their brains were scanned for five days after.
The neurological changes were found to have continued for all the five days after finishing, proving that the impact was not just an immediate reaction but has a lasting influence.