Reading is an all-time favorite hobby and pastime that never gets old. Despite the emergence of modern technology that rendered books obsolete, many people are still interested in exploring the world of reading.

Most if not all people know that reading is important, but did you know that there are several benefits when we read more? According to a new study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, University of Southern California (USC) researchers found that reading could improve one’s emotional intelligence like having better Self-Awareness and feeling greater Empathy for others, regardless of origin and language.

The study

In order to determine the brain activation patterns of people who read, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map the brain responses to stories in three different languages including Persian, Mandarin Chinese, and English. According to Deccan Chronicle, USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute (USCBCI) researcher and lead study author Morteza Dehghani explained that there are some universal effects that occur in the brain when people are exposed to narrative storytelling and when they are understanding stories.

Through a software developed by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies and with the help of machine learning and text-analysis, the researchers selected 40 blog and personal stories with various themes and topics.

These were condensed into a 150-word paragraph and translated into Mandarin Chinese and Persian languages.

As the neuroscience experts read the participants’ mind while they read the stories, they found distinctive patterns in the readers’ brains. Online News reported these patterns were measured in the area known as the “default mode network,” which is connected to the hippocampal formation (where long-term memories are processed), the lateral temporal cortex (responsible for visual memory and emotional association), medial prefrontal cortex (responsible for memory recall and decision-making), inferior parietal lobe (responsible for interpreting sensory data and emotional comprehension) and posterior cingulate cortex (active in episodic memory recall).

Since reading activates brain regions responsible for memory and emotional processing, people are able to empathize more and be more understanding of what the characters of the stories have been through. But apart from self-awareness and empathy, literary comprehension also boosts intelligence, Big Think revealed.

The default mode state

The brain has two main states — the central executive and the default mode aka “daydreaming.” As per neuroscience expert Dan Levitin, the default mode is where “creativity is enhanced” when the mind is drifting. It is also the state where many problems are solved.

Meanwhile, the USC research also suggested that daydreaming and reading stories are quite similar as it allows the mind to wander freely.

In fact, there are times when we get “lost in a book” because we found an interesting detail or valuable information in the story that we’re reading.

The study also promotes the concept that “narrative is how we construct the world.” USC assistant professor and study co-author Jonas Kaplan suggested that reading helps people “create meaning out of the world.”

Importance and benefits of reading

Apart from being a good pastime habit, reading is deemed important for many reasons. One, it is fundamental to functioning in today’s society. It also helps develop the mind, the imagination and the creative side of people, Learn to Read noted.

As for its benefits, Capcana listed that reading regularly can help in mental stimulation, stress reduction, vocabulary expansion and memory improvement. It can also hone one’s critical and analytical thinking, boost focus and concentration, and sharpen one’s writing skills.