How your reading choices affect your brain

'Your reading brain senses a cadence that accompanies more complex writing'

Reading more in-depth, analytical texts can improve your writing skills, Susan Reynolds writes for Psychology Today/Quartz.  

A recent study published in the International Journal of Business Administration found that reading practice had a bigger effect on students' writing ability than writing practice. Students who read more complex material, such as academic journals, wrote more syntactically sophisticated sentences than students who read popular fiction or content solely from online aggregators such as Reddit or BuzzFeed.

Reynolds points to other research indicating that "deep reading," which is complex, emotional, and takes time to process, differs greatly from light reading, which is simply a matter of interpreting words. Deep reading is an immersive experience, tapping into the regions of the brain that would be activated if the reader were actually taking part in the event. The practice stimulates the brain's centers for speech, vision, and hearing, all of which contribute to our ability to write well.

"Your reading brain senses a cadence that accompanies more complex writing, which your brain then seeks to emulate when writing," Reynolds explains. 

Light reading, on the other hand, is far less intellectually stimulating. It doesn't take much effort to breeze through lists, entertainment news, and content that makes use of emoji to communicate a point. We are not more enriched after having skimmed through these kinds of easy reading.  

Poems and literary fiction in particular are excellent means of practicing deep reading. One study found that poetry activates the regions of the brain associated with introspection. Participants who read their favorite poems had their memories stimulated more strongly than in their "reading areas," indicating that beloved poetry can bring about powerful emotions. And the ability to evoke emotion is incredibly important for creative writing.

Research has also found that reading literary fiction promotes better performance on tests that assess people's ability to understand others' emotions, as well as others' thinking and state of being. Literary nonfiction provides readers with the cognitive power to think beyond themselves and engage in greater contemplation.

"If you're serious about becoming a better writer, spend lots of time deep-reading literary fiction and poetry and articles on science or art that feature complex language and that require your lovely brain to think," Reynolds says (Reynolds, Psychology Today/Quartz, 6/30). 


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