A Moment of Science

Lost in a Book

Ever wonder what's happening inside your brain when you read a really good book? Find out on today's Moment of Science.

Man reading a book

Photo: dhammza (flickr)

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body

Have you ever got so caught up in a really good story that you loose all awareness of your surroundings? Well, there’s a study that explains what’s going on in the brain when we get caught up in a story.

Basically, according to the study, when you read a story that engages you, your brain creates detailed and vivid simulations of the details in the story. When you read, your brain is activated as though you’re actually observing, imagining, or doing the things you’re reading about.

The point is that reading isn’t a passive activity where the brain is just processing language. It’s much more dynamic and active. Say you’re reading a book about baseball, the brain reacts in ways similar to how it would if you were actually playing baseball, or watching a game, or imagining yourself hitting a ball, or whatever.

The researchers studied readers’ brains using an MRI scanner. But because the readers had to remain perfectly still, their heads were immobilized as they read the story one word at a time on a computer screen.

Even reading stories in that strange, one-word-at-a-time way, the readers’ brains were still activated to create mental simulations of the story. Maybe being lost in a good book doesn’t mean you’re zoned out. It’s more like your brain is tuned in.

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