Books and the Brain

· October 28, 2015

Reading a book goes far beyond reading words on a page. It is complete immersion in another world or another era. You forget about everything around you, you immerse yourself in another world. You are anxious to get to the end and when you finally get there you feel a mixture of sadness and completeness.

Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person
-Gregory Berns-

Why is reading so important? What effect does it have on our brain?

Books and the brain

When we read, we are stimulating our brains. Books encourage visual attention, imagination, and emotional responses – all of which cause positive mental exercise that enriches our mind.

But this only happens with good books and good writing. In fact, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, authors of Metaphors We Live By, examined the power of metaphors in individuals’ minds. Metaphors have the power to activate different areas of our consciousness depending on their meaning.


Not everyone imagines in the same way, and this is an important and interesting fact. One book read by two people can be visualized and imagined in very different ways.

What determines someone’s perception of a book and its characters? Their personality, their character, their situation and experiences. I will not see a character of a book in the exact same light that you do, simply because our minds work in different ways.

Characters and empathy

How often do we put ourselves in the shoes of a character from a book we are reading? Besides coming to visualize them in a certain way and form an opinion of them, we empathize with them. In this way, we often feel the same as they feel.

Thanks to this process, we become more intuitive and aware of our surroundings, which allows us to better understand emotional signals of others. We must not forget that they are fictional characters that do not really exist, but in our minds they become very real because we give them shape.

This is why we feel a sense of sadness and emptiness upon finishing a book. We become friends with those characters, we become so familiar with the places described, and we remember the events of the book as intimately as though they were our own experiences. We followed the characters through their lives and felt what they felt.

Changing our behavior

Reading helps us to understand the world and other points of view. A book may be fiction, but it holds many hidden lessons for every one of us from which we can learn a multitude of things.

In addition to developing our ability to empathize, books make us more understanding people with a greater capacity to understand others. In other words, we learn how to deal with certain situations or people because of what we have read.

Make books part of your life

As we have seen, books help us to better understand the world and empathize with others. They affect us in a positive way that benefits us in our daily lives.

We have so many opportunities to read now. We have paper books and electronic books, and they come in a variety of languages, topics, and themes, so we can choose depending on what we are looking for or what we need. I remember once when a friend said that a sad book had helped her through a bad time in her life.

How is that possible? Perhaps she identified deeply with the content of the book and it helped her see that there would always be bad moments in life, but that did not make her life bad. Reading about another’s misfortune helped her in a positive way.

These and other things can happen to any one of us. Why do we watch a movie that we know will make us cry when we are feeling sad? Because it allows our pain to flow and we liberate ourselves from it in that way. The same happens with books, but with an important addition: they let us imagine and create.