Reading Novels Transports You into Body of Protagonist, Claims Research

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By Gopi Chandra Kharel | December 29, 2013 10:10 PM EST

Scientists studying the actual, biological changes that occur inside the brain, while reading a book, have said that the effect lingers in the brain for several days, even after the book is completed. The discovery suggests that readers are mentally transported into the body of the protagonist.

The new research, conducted by Emory University in the US, has found that reading a good book may create a heightened connectivity and neurological activity in the brain that persists for long, just like the muscle memory.

The study suggests that actual, 'biological' chances in the brain linger at least for a few days, after reading the book.

"The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist," neuroscience Professor Gregory Berns, the lead author of the study, told the Independent.

"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."

The research focused on the persisting neural effects of reading a strong narrative. 21 students participated in the study and all read the same book - Pompeii, a 2003 thriller by Robert Harris, which was chosen for its brilliant and page-turning plot.

The students read a part of the story in the evening and underwent scans the following morning. They continued the same process for over 19 days. Once the students completed the book, they underwent brain scan five days later.

The researchers found that the neurological changes in the brain continued for all five days after finishing, which proves the impact of the book created in the brain had a lasting influence.

The changes were detected in the left temporal cortex, an area which is generally associated to functions like sensory input processing, language comprehension, new memory storage and emotions.

This region has also long been associated with tricking the mind into thinking that it is doing something that it is actually imagining. This phenomenon has been called as "grounded cognition" in which, for example, just a thought about dancing on a stage would trigger neurons in the brain associated with the real action of dancing.

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