Reading Fiction Enhances Brain Functioning: How reading novels keeps the mind active and may be the secret to enhancing brain performance.

Guest Post by Brian Walsh

The human brain seems to hum along quite nicely, without effort or complaint, motivated by varying established patterns and routine. New research however, suggests that the brain can build neuronal connections, and easily performs much better, by adding novelty and random activity.  In school we had to memorize all sorts of stuff which was good for training young minds, but just memorizing poems, formulae, and dates alone wasn’t enough to access the potential and capacity to appreciate literature, wonder at science, or gain historical perspective.

We are not stuck with a static brain, nor are we necessarily stuck with a deteriorating brain. Neuroscientists have discovered within the past twenty years that an adult brain, in fact, can regenerate brain cells. American neuroscientist Dr. Steven Miller, from the Scientific Learning Corporation states that “The things you do, how much you write, what you do to challenge your brain, actually decreases the chances of age-related memory loss.”

Curiosity is the key to quality learning.  To grow, the human brain needs to be challenged.  We’ve discovered most of what we know about how the brain learns in the past decade, including that the pleasure center of the brain responds strongly to the unexpected, and thus, that novelty can be a strategic tool for training the brain.

What does this have to do with reading fiction? Recent research at Baylor College of Medicine and Emory University has helped explain why some people crave the unexpected. Experiments have shown the brain’s reward pathways responds more strongly to unexpected than expected stimuli. This may help explain aspects of addictive behavior such as drug-taking and gambling, risky decision-making, participation in extreme sports, and yes, the joy of reading fiction. The brain is the only organ that will continue to grow and develop when properly nourished and stimulated.  In learning new material, as in reading fiction, the brain is challenged, and the more it is used, the more efficient it becomes.

Mental stimulations make brain cells generate new extensions, resulting in richer information processing. Reading fiction, particularly across diverse authors and genres, pushes our boundaries as we vicariously experience fresh scenarios and identify with the characters. No wonder they call them novels.  Forcing us to create the scenes, the look of the characters, the smells, and the sounds, and prodding our emotions, reading fiction stimulates all of our senses and tweaks our brain. Reading does this so much more than does simply watching someone else’s interpretation on film or in a play.

How this translates into the real world? It shows up in greater creativity and longevity. Smart business today looks for innovative thinkers who can recognize changes in market patterns, and strive for better processes and procedures. Progressive companies seek leaders, not just followers. So, what’s the secret for keeping that brain active? Stay curious, collaborate with others for different perspective, embrace chance opportunities, push the boundaries, and read an enticing novel. It will enhance your brain performance and improve your quality of life, especially in the later years.

Brian Walsh was a journalist and broadcaster before joining a major international firm. For much of his thirty-year career he was involved in human resources, specifically staff training. He elected early retirement, went back to school, and within four years achieved his PhD.

His dissertation, which focused on accelerated learning techniques, inspired his first book, Unleashing Your Brilliance. Brian is dedicated to personal empowerment through his articles, webinars, workshops, and audio / video products. He is an NLP Master Practitioner, a Hypnotherapist, an EFT Practitioner, and an Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist.

His latest books are the Emergency Responder Communication Skills Handbook; BrainWidth: Smarter than you think; and VAK Self-Audit: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Communication and Learning Styles.


Posted on August 27, 2011, in Health and Body, Parenting, Personal Growth, Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Good information and useful. I will tie it into some presentations and client work, especially with any head injury clients.Thanks Gregg

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