We tapped neuroscientist Ali Hazelwood, author of The Love Hypothesis, to explain the benefits of reading in layman’s terms. So next time you’re tearing through a novel and ignoring everything else, don’t worry… reading is good for your health!
Research shows that people who read fiction tend to have higher levels of empathy, and are often better at navigating social and emotional situations. This might be because reading exercises the Default Mode Network—or DMN: a group of connected brain regions that includes, among others, the hippocampus (memory), the prefrontal cortex (executive functions) and the posterior cingulate cortex (awareness). As a whole, the DMN is often considered to be the “daydreaming network,” because it displays the highest levels of synchronicity when we think about ourselves and others, or when we remember things that have happened in the past and try to plan ahead for the future. Basically, the DMN shines whenever we let our mind wander and our imagination takes over. It is often said that reading is like traveling to new worlds, and the DMN likely has something to do with it!
But there’s more. Activity in the DMN has been found to decrease as we grow older, to the point that the deterioration of its structural and functional health can be considered a biomarker: there is evidence that just by looking at the health of DMN, we might be able to predict the future onset of cognitive decline—even before this decline becomes detectable in behavior.
And that’s where our reading habits come into play. Perhaps because reading keeps our DMN engaged, it’s considered a crucial part of building up our cognitive reserve, which is the brain’s ability to show resilience in the face of the neural damage that accompanies aging. Several studies have found that people with daily reading habits are less susceptible to cognitive impairment and at lower risk of dementia.
In short: reading is good for us. Not just for our mood, our heart, and our growth, but also for our brain!
Check out Ali’s books!