We all know that reading a novel can transport you, delight you and intrigue you while you’re reading it. Now, thanks research by scientists at Emory University, we know that immersing yourself in a novel causes measurable physical changes in the brain that can be detected up to five days after the reader closes the book.
The Emory researchers, in a paper for the journal Brain Connectivity, compared the effect to “muscle memory.”
"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," neuroscientist Gregory Berns said, according to a report in the journal Science Codex. "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."
Twenty-one undergraduate students took part in the study. All read the same book, the 2003 thriller “Pompeii” by Robert Harris. The scientists said they deliberately chose a plot-driven book.
“The story follows a protagonist who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano,” Berns said. He tries to return the doomed city to save the woman he loves. “It depicts true events in a fictional and dramatic way. It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.”