How Reading Rewires Your Brain


There is no doubt in my mind that modern society traps its subjects in an unhealthy and unsuitable environment. That stark realization motivates many of my stories (see here and here, for example). The most disturbing symptom of how toxic our culture has become is the increasingly acerbic mutual distrust evident in current politics. Little wonder so many feel depressed, powerless, and alienated.

Rather than utilizing technology to better our lives, we let it rule us. Distracted by smart phones, buffeted by inescapable sensory overload, and hobbling our discourse in 140-character outbursts at each other, we’re incapable of understanding our own inner selves, much less that of others.

Fortunately, the tonic for the condition we find ourselves in is close at hand — if only we would use it, as this eye-opening piece in big think proclaims:

Research shows that reading not only helps with fluid intelligence, but with reading comprehension and emotional intelligence as well. You make smarter decisions about yourself and those around you.

All of these benefits require actually reading, which leads to the formation of a philosophy rather than the regurgitation of an agenda, so prevalent in reposts and online trolling. Recognizing the intentions of another human also plays a role in constructing an ideology. Novels are especially well-suited for this task. A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology found overlap in brain regions used to comprehend stories and networks dedicated to interactions with others.

The beauty of it all is that when you read, you gain more than just the knowledge contained in the text. The very act of reading builds “white matter” in the brain, thereby boosting the brain’s interconnectivity and ability to function more efficiently.

In the United States — yes, the United States1 out of 4 children grow up without learning to read. That’s intolerable. Want to do your part to make the world a better and happier place? Read, and do what you can to help others read.

And if you really get ambitious, and have the nerve to try it, write something beautiful.

67 thoughts on “How Reading Rewires Your Brain”

  1. I can’t imagine a childhood without reading. I’m an avid TV watcher and social media consumer but I still read just as hungrily as I did as a child.

    Incidentally, Goodreads is encouraging people to participate in a Hide a Book day tomorrow (September 18th) as part of their ten-year anniversary. Hopefully this will nurture more reading and rewire some brains!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. pictish princess,

      I read a lot as a kid, too. My mother bought me a series of short biographies of famous people. Robert the Bruce, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller — they were very inspirational. And Tom Sawyer was as real as any other old friend.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Reblogged this on Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author and commented:
    Don’t miss this post from M.C. Tuggle… Bette A. Stevens, Maine author
    “In the United States — yes, the United States — 1 out of 4 children grow up without learning to read. That’s intolerable. Want to do your part to make the world a better and happier place? Read, and do what you can to help others read. ”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. bamauthor,

      It is a tough choice. But as you well know, we get to have it both ways, since writers have to read a great deal to keep up with the latest in our genre, and to keep the ideas flowing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bette, I love your post. It is so strong and fluid and filled with interesting information. I didn’t know about the brain and reading. We should produce a lot of white matters then.😊 . I don’t even partake in those 140 charachter ‘conversations”. Non member of twitter and Facebook.
    However, there is not a day I can remember without reading.

    Maybe schools need volunteers to read for the young? Will find out the rules.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike, I have no idea why I put Bette’s name in an answer on your blog. Please forgive error. Shall we blame it on white matter and I need to read ferociously for a while……..😊.
      I have just read your article again and love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this post! Right now Hillsdale College has a free online course in Reading Great Books:102 -Renaissance to Modern. The soul, spirit and intellect is engaged which makes reading not only enjoyable but fulfills the longing in the heart. Will re- blog this and check out the categories below, too. How about adding Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Austen, Twain, and more. Many thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reading for me is akin to meditation. But I believe it’s most beneficial when fully focused, when one is able to block all other thoughts. And one should be able to hold multiple variables, from the reading, at once in one’s mind, enabling complex thought.

    I want to say there’s a Marcus Aurelius quote that goes something like, “Meditate now lest you regret it later.” For me, that’s how reading is.

    I have some issues with concentration due to eye strain / stress, which is a problem I’ve developed, not something I’ve always had. But reading keeps me sharp. So, to explain, it helps one to later concentrate in spite of less-than-ideal circumstances.

    Meditation might also be helpful; I’ve just never been able to do it.

    There’s another quote by, um, Plato I think, that one’s mind fades if unused. So, an hour of focused study, an hour of rigorous exercise, an hour, total, of healthy eating and socialising, and 6 hrs of sleep are probably all ideal for a healthy life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Comment left on Bette’s reblog – worth a repeat here
    This is appalling! ONE FOURTH of our population grows up illiterate? Well THAT explains a lot.

    hmmmmmm . . . makes me wonder about not-my-president and his Sec. of Ed. appointee. Since science has shown that learning to read also changes the brain in some fundamental ways, that means that many folks are also missing a few cognitive marbles otherwise. Surely the “never been easier to confirm an appointee” veep is one of those.
    Just went back to add a link here to my August lead-in to my article about some of the brain-benefits for readers, originally hosted by writer D.G.Kaye (also linked) “Read Any Good Books Lately?”

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. For me, it is unimaginable that there could be a time I wouldn’t be in the middle of a book. I always have at least one or two going. Reading was always a top priority from the time our children were babies. How can it be in a country like the US, where a free public education is available to all, that 1 in 4 children can’t read? The 11 Facts about Literacy in America are abysmal.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Well said! And well written. I will share this with many. I’m doing my little bit for reading and literature-I have read and shared my own illustrated children’s book – Birds of Paradise – with my grandchildren’s school classes. In elementary school, an author is a celebrity! More schools should encourage authors to come visit and read their stories. Kids want to learn and want to read. Let’s change those statistics!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ahh… I love this! I think the only way I survived my childhood was by reading books. They took me to places I could only dream of and allowed me to leave behind the sad state of my upbringing. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reading is probably the greatest gift I have and the greatest gift that I gave to my four daughters all of whom could read well before they started school. Apart from love, of course. Love is the most wonderful of gifts to give and to bathe in. Society has systematically set about destroying the joy of reading in such a short time. Smart phones and Social Media (Ironic, isn’t it because I am commenting on your excellent piece through Social Media) have their place but they have become a drug. I could write for hours on what I consider to be the scourge of the modern world. All hail reading …. I hope the tide is turning back to where it needs to settle.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Mike, reading is even more of a tonic than your excellent post describes. It takes children away from their multiple social, emotional, and family pressures. It gives them dreams and hope. Definitely it retires their brain. With the youngest of children, it wires their brain with learning and imagination. Thank you for your post!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on Write Through It and commented:
    Mired in the thickets of writing and editing, we sometimes lose sight of why we do what we do. We’re creating stuff — fiction and nonfiction, stories, poems, essays, and whole books — that will get people to read. Here’s a reminder. Thanks to Charles French for his blog post calling this to my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mike, what an important post. Yes, it is unbelievable that 1 out of 4 children in the Unites States cannot read. I think we need more outreach to areas that do not have independent books stores in small towns, especially here in North Georgia as well as in Atlanta. Thanks again, Mike. K D 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Mike, I just purchased your latest novel, The Genie Hunt and your other novel, Aztec Midnight sounds good too. I have a question for you. What influences prompted you to begin writing paranormal/supernatural stories? I know what my reasons are, but what about yours? Any significant experiences? K D 🙂


    1. K.D. Dowdall,

      I suppose much of it is in reaction to our splintered, snarling, money-grubbing society. We’re supposed to think of ourselves as “liberated” from our bodies, our communities, and our planet, free agents in a globalist world culture. Problem is, when you’re totally interchangeable and unconnected, you’ve managed to shed your authentic identity and sense of belonging.

      To me, fantasy is a way of reclaiming the joy of discovery of a beautiful and endlessly surprising world. What you call the supernatural in my fiction is my objection that we and the world of which we are a part are more complex than the marketing analysts and behavioral psychologists can see.

      And thank you for buying my books! I truly appreciate your support.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mike you are so spot-on regarding your assessment of the world that we live in now. Fantasy writing is a joy for me and I love how you described it: discovery of a beautiful and endlessly surprising world. Yes, it is. I love writing paranormal stories, another joy for me. I do relate very much to the fantasy and paranormal worlds. I have a rather close connection to that world, but that’s another story. thank you for your wonderful comment! K D 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  15. In finding this post in my inbox this morning, I experienced remarkable serendipity. You see, I had taken a quick time out from reading an article from the magazine “Perspectives on Psychological Science” to check my email. (Technological distractions, much)? The article I was reading is titled “The Function of Fiction Is the Abstraction and Simulation of Social Experience” and it discusses this exact phenomenon! Literature provides an abstracted simulation of potential life situations that allow our brains to practice the difficult task of empathy and prediction.

    Toxic is the perfect word for what our culture has become. As creative individuals, one of our jobs is to push back against that toxicity by, well, creating. The very act flies in the face of the the demoralizing message of mindless consumption foisted upon us by social and mainstream media.

    Thanks for sharing, and happy writing to you!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. With all the distraction of social media, I worry about the place of novels in the modern world. Everyone wants everything straight away and reading a novel takes time and patience. Still, the bookshops are full and the likes of Amazon are doing a roaring trade, so obviously people are still reading. I don’t think anything will ever replace the novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Naomi,

      Readers have always been a minority, but as you say, it appears to be a shrinking minority. We have to do what we can to meet the expectations of the literate remnant.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, and I think we have to keep writing to make sense of the modern world we live in. The time I grew up in is now considered the past and it is a very different world today. I feel that the rules I was given to live by are no longer working, and that is why I write what I write.


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