How Reading Rewires Your Brain

How Reading Rewires Your Brain
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Confucius said, “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.”

The largest part of your brain is the cerebrum (Suh-Ree-Bruhm).  The folds and bumps give it an-other-worldly look.  It’s divided into two halves and they are connected by the corpus callosum (Kor-Pus-Kuh-Loh-Suhm).  It has a big job—helping you to do what you want to do; it controls memory, speech, intelligence, emotions and personality.  We all use both sides of our brain, but the left side is adept at logic, organization, math, grammar and vocabulary; and, the right side of your body.  The right side of your brain, on the other hand, is good with creativity, artistic skill, music ability, imagination, the tone of your voice; and, the left side of the body.

Mind Control Cross-Over

The Intergenerational School at Case Western Reserve studies the brain with an emphasis on aging.  You know that old saying about how you use only 10% of your brain? Not true. Your brain uses many sections and you can increase and engage all of them more fully.  It only takes a couple weeks to form new habits that can kick up your cognitive strength and help to stave off or even reverse forgetfulness or brain aging.

Lifestyle habits—your choices and your environment—affect your brain more than your genes do.  And unless memories have special meaning to us, our brains seldom store them for more than a short time.

The incredible power of visualization

The rewiring of your brain is a result of neuroplasticity, which includes two things: Neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) and synaptogenesis (new connections between neurons). You can enhance the growth of those two things through meditation, reflective self-inquiry, mindfulness, asking meaningful questions, and reading including visualization.

Through visualization, you can turn an abstract hope into a picture that not only inspires you, but also guides you. According to a study called, “The Future of Memory: Remembering, Imagining and the Brain," the human brain can’t always distinguish between a memory and a vision of the future.

In other words, when you envision your end goal, by priming your brain—you can work towards recreating it in real life.

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is designed to change your brain. Through fMRI—functional magnetic resonance imaging—researchers have studied the hippocampus and its specific role in memory.  You have the ability in your mind to create a three-dimensional realm. Interestingly, folks who want to become London taxi drivers must learn the geography of the street riding a small-type moped.  They call this “on the knowledge.” This is no small feat as they must take three or four years using 8-hour days to learn the streets. It can not only be done, but their brains get bigger in the process. Declarative memories get sent to the hippocampus. Declarative memory concerns the ability to bring back to mind factual and episodic information.

Another interesting phenomenon. Today patients are being taught to control pain. Using neuro-imaging therapy, they watch their own brain activity and with much repetition, they can learn to control enduring pain. In addition, scientists have revealed that playing certain video games less than 30 minutes each day can greatly enhance multitasking skills.  Gary Small, author and Director of the UCLA Longevity Center, says that, “a 70-year old brain can be transformed to a new, younger brain’s performance level simply by playing a video game that trains drivers to ignore distractions.”

The Letterbox

Learning to read is a demanding brain activity.  We must learn to recognize small abstract symbols made up of curved and straight lines.  The brain has a special area for this task the size of a postage stamp, it’s the area of the left temporal lobe.  Dr. Klingberg, author of The Learning Brain, says that this area is “squeezed between one specializing in face recognition and another that analyzes object shape, which has come to be called the ‘letterbox’ area.”  He thinks we may be born with an inherent capacity for reading because this area resides in the same brain location in almost all individuals; and it goes into service whether we use Chinese, Italian, English or whatever we are reading.

As if this weren’t enough, as children we often write our E backward or confuse the letters b and d.  The brain makes a habit of equating reflected objects that we eventually wean ourselves off of, and after the letters are knowingly recognized, we have to link them to phonemes.  A phoneme is a single “unit” of sound that has meaning in any language.  It is the basic building block of phonetics; the blending of speech sounds.  And fortunately, there is another area, just above the letterbox that governs this very task!  This is complex neural circuitry at its best.

Now reading is much more complicated in that the reader has to concentrate not only on words and their meaning, but he has to remember the beginning of the sentence until he has reached the end.  This gets associated—meanings and their connotations—into long-term memory; the printed letters and their phonic representation finally as a spoken language. The function of reading fairly lights up the brain with activity.

Researchers and scientists have often said that reading is an endeavor that reduces stress and can lower both heart rate and blood pressure.  Novel readers are pulling in extra bonuses when it comes to reading. They are able to get into a character’s head—and the unfolding of the protagonist’s psyche can make readers happy and feel connected because of the empathy required within the story.  An actual immersion into a book can strengthen your critical thinking, increase your focus, and stimulate new ideas. And, it’s still fun to turn the page.

Reference

Beres, Derek. How reading rewires your brain for greater intelligence and empathy. Big Think, 2017. Retrieved 2019.

“Brain Fitness Frontiers: Exploring the brain’s ability to change throughout life.” Sante Fe: Santa Fe Productions, 2009. DVD.

Halvorson, Karin M.D. Inside the Brain. North Mankato, MN: ABDO Publishing Co., 2013. Book.

Klingberg, Torkel M.D. The Learning Brain: Memory and Brain Development in Children. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Book.

Schacter DL, Addis DR, Hassabis D, Martin VC, Spreng RN, Szpunar KK. The future of memory: remembering, imagining, and the brain. Neuron. 2012;76(4):677–694. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.11.001

Small, Gary M.D. and Vorgan, Gigi. 2 Weeks to a Younger Brain. West Palm Beach: Humanix Books, 2015. Book.

Trombetta, Sadie. “What Does Reading Do To Your Brain? These 5 Effects Are Pretty Astounding.” Bustle, 2017.

Feature photo courtesy of Pixabay.com