A new study reveals
that reading actually can prepare you for situations in real life that you read about in a book. The reason is that when someone reads about a particular action, he imagines it happening in his mind: the relevant portions of the brain actually light up while reading.
A brain-imaging study carried out by psychologists at Washington University in St Louis used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track brain activity as participants read short stories, finding that reading is by no means a passive activity. Instead, as participants read from a 1940s text about the daily activities of a young boy, activity in different brain regions increased depending on what was going on in the story.
So, if the character in the book "pulled a light cord", brain activity increased in the frontal lobe region which controls grasping motions. As the character in the story "went through the front door into the kitchen", activity went up in the relevant temporal lobes.
"There has been good evidence for a while that mental simulation - imagination - can improve performance in sport and other skilled behaviours. This study suggests that readers do mental simulation when they comprehend a story," Jeffrey Zacks, a co-author of the study and director of the university's dynamic cognition laboratory, said today. "It could well be that the simulations we perform when reading function like skilled practice. I was reading a cooking magazine last night, and I certainly hope that helps me get better with a whisk."
We knew that reading is good for vocabulary and learning, but it also appears that it stimulates the brain and the creativity centers.