An escape into the pages of a book is more than a momentary adventure. What you encounter has the potential to change your brain, whether you are reading fiction or non-fiction.
Scientists are proving the emotional and intellectual effects of reading are real. In her New York Times article, Your Brain on Fiction, Annie Murphy Paul writes that research shows fiction can “stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.” Studies indicate that the brain doesn’t distinguish between reading about an experience and actually encountering it. In addition to neurological regions traditionally associated with behaviour, emotions and the senses are stimulated by corresponding reading material. The brain, Paul writes, “treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters”.
"Great novels can change your life...and your brain," writes science correspondent Sarah Knapton. “Researchers found biological changes in the brains of those asked to read books, in an experiment designed to prove that novels can have a significant impact on the mind.”
They found that a powerful story has the ability to create “muscle memory” in the brain in the same way that the experience of actual events would.
Knapton quotes Neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia: "Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person.
That’s powerful stuff. In the words of Stanley Lee, Spiderman creator (or Voltaire, take your pick), great power comes with great responsibility. Thus begins Story Matter, so named because it explores stories and the power they exert over our lives, whether drawn in truth or fiction, or somewhere between.