Classic Literature Boosts Brain Power
January 14, 2013

Researchers Analyze Impact Of Classic Literature On The Brain

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Reading books can help your brain — of that there is little doubt. But a new scientific study and a recently released book have taken that concept to an entirely new level, showing that what you read, how you read, and how you apply lessons learned from the experience could have a tremendous impact on your thought-processes and problem-solving skills.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Liverpool University, monitored the brains of 30 subjects as they read the classic works of authors such as William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, and TS Eliot, Julie Henry, Education Correspondent with The Telegraph, reported on Sunday.

First, they read the author´s works in their original forms, then they had them modernized to make the prose and poetry easier to understand. Brain scans demonstrated that the original, less straightforward versions “set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the more pedestrian versions,” Henry said.

“Scientists were able to study the brain activity as it responded to each word and record how it ℠lit up´ as the readers encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult sentence structure. This ℠lighting up´ of the mind lasts longer than the initial electrical spark, shifting the brain to a higher gear, encouraging further reading,” she explained.

Poetry, in particular, was found to have a profound impact on the brain´s right hemisphere, which plays a key role in a person´s ability to reflect upon and re-evaluate their own experiences based upon what they read.

“Serious literature acts like a rocket-booster to the brain,” English professor Phillip Davis, who was involved with the study, told The Telegraph. "The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.”

The researchers also plan to team with colleagues from University College London (UCL) to study what impact reading could have on individuals suffering from dementia.

Meanwhile, in related news, CNN´s Christian DuChateau on Friday conducted an interview with Maria Konnikova, a doctoral student in psychology and the author of the new book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. The book, according to DuChateau, attempts to explain the inner workings of the famed literary detective, while also showing how we can draw inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle´s character in our own day-to-day lives.

“Holmes is really a mindful detective, someone who knows the true value of observation, which means being mindful and in the present moment, really taking in your surroundings, really taking in everything,” Konnikova said in the interview. “That type of approach permeates all of his thinking. He's not just aware of his environment; he's aware of himself; he's aware of the contents of his own mind. He has a powerful knowledge of how he thinks, what mistakes he is likely to make. Holmes puts it best when he says it's the difference between seeing and observing.”

Thinking like Holmes, she says, can help a person become “healthier, happier and sharper.” The key to doing this, Konnikova believes, is to avoid trying to do too many things at once.

“When you multitask, you cannot think like Sherlock Holmes. That's just anathema to his mindful approach,” she told DuChateau. “If we take chunks out of the day where we focus, where we allow ourselves to just do one thing and nothing else, you'll find your mind becomes better at doing that one thing and better at managing multiple inputs, filtering out distractions and creating a cleaner slate for you to work.”