Part of comic Jim Gaffigan’s riff on laziness goes: “You ever talk about a movie with someone that read the book? They’re always so condescending. ‘Ah, the book was much better than the movie.’ Oh really? What I enjoyed about the movie: No Reading!”
Turns out that reading a novel – though it requires heavier lifting – returns a hefty dividend. Readers, and I suspect that includes Gaffigan, already know this. But a new study by Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy adds some science to the equation.
“Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person,” says Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns. “We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.”
He adds, “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.”
What have the neuroscientists at Emory stumbled upon here? What are people finding in books that got lost when technology began offering so many more options? To me, it’s:
1 – More depth and a richer, long-lasting experience.
2 – The chance and challenge to decide what a character looks and sounds like based only on the author’s description.
3 – An opportunity, again based simply on text, to imagine all the sensory elements that movies deliver without making us work.
4 – The pleasure of getting lost in a story, because reading is more active than watching.
5 – A chance to role-play. Emory’s Berns says, “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.”
This isn’t about books versus movies. Rather, it’s part of the explanation for why reading, despite all the high-tech competition, continues to thrive. Anyone with doubts should check the stats from Goodreads (Facebook for folks who prefer books to selfies). Goodreads.com nearly doubled its membership last year to 25 million. The site now hosts 29 million book reviews, and readers are discovering a new book every four seconds.
What do you get from reading a novel?
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