Reading Improves Executive Function

A recent research collaboration between neurobiologists from the Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging and an english postdoctorate researcher at Stanford University suggests that complex novels can activate key brain areas, and particularly those responsible for executive function.

The researchers asked participants to read a chapter from a challenging novel (Mansfield Park by Jane Austin) while they took scans of their brains using an MRI machine. First the participants were asked to read just as they would when reading a book for fun, and then they were told to switch to a more critical, analytical reading style.

They found, that this change in the focus of the reading caused a significant shift in the patterns of brain activity. While casual reading activated the brains pleasure center, the critical reading increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, a key area of the brain responsible for executive function.

Executive functions are those which control and direct the rest of our cognitive functions. They play a key role in our decision making processes, problem solving, reasoning and controls your ability to focus and divide your attention. It is also heavily linked to working memory and to fluid intelligence.

So while it might not be surprising news that reading is good for you, the next time you pick up a book, try switching to a more critical, analytical style of reading and you will be giving your brain a workout that will help improve a wide range of cognitive abilities including; concentration, problem solving and decision making.


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