Fiction reading can have a significant impact on the brain.
According to new research, reading fiction books such as Harry Potter can point to how the brain processes language, grammar and meaning.
Computer scientists and neurologists from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Queen’s University in Belfast and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore set out to gain a clearer understanding of the role of the different brain regions that are activated in response to reading.
Led by CMU’s Machine Learning Department, the researchers conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on the brains of eight people who were each reading chapter nine of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – which detailed Harry’s first flying lesson.
The brain scans were then analysed by each cubic millimetre in order to detect each four-word segment in the chapter, from which the first ever integrated computational model of reading was created.
Using this model, the researchers compared the fMRI activity of the participants’ brains to various passages from the book, so that they could determine which sections were being read. This produced 74 per cent accuracy in tracking brain activity while reading.
Leila Wehbe, a PhD student at CMU, said: “It turns out that movement of the characters – such as when they are flying their brooms – is associated with activation in the same brain region that we use to perceive other people’s motion.
“Similarly, the characters in the story are associated with activation in the same brain region we use to process other people’s intentions.”
The research, entitled Simultaneously Uncovering the Patterns of Brain Regions Involved in Different Story Reading Sub-processes, has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Such in-depth brain maps serve as a gateway to understanding and diagnosing learning difficulties like dyslexia – whereby the affected individual struggles with reading and comprehension.
In the meantime, computer-based assistive technologies such as the Nessy Learning Programme can help to boost the literacy skills of children with dyslexia, enabling them to gain confidence and setting them in good stead for the future.
(Credit image: Thinkstock/Andreas Rodriguez)