Readers’ brains work like rats’, with each piece of fiction being built in a simulated environment like a maze map in a tiny little rodent brain. This means reading isn’t passive, but rather an active exercise for the old noggin. Ah, science. Thankfully we have you and your kooky, well-funded labcoat warmers to prove the things artists have been saying since forever first fucking began. Surely there must be some way to monetize this research or turn it into a bomb, right? Otherwise, how did it get funded?
“Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that when we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story,” says Jeffrey M. Zacks, study co-author and director of the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis.
The study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, is one of a series in which Zacks and colleagues use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track real-time brain activity as study participants read and process individual words and short stories.
Nicole Speer, lead author of this study, says findings demonstrate that reading is by no means a passive exercise. Rather, readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative. Details about actions and sensation are captured from the text and integrated with personal knowledge from past experiences. These data are then run through mental simulations using brain regions that closely mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities.