• Mayuri Vaish

Reading and the Brain

Research has shown that reading comprehension is associated with more left-lateralized activation (i.e, greater activation of the left hemisphere of the brain) and activation in the left inferior occipital cortex, including the fusiform gyrus.[1][2]

fMRI activation with reading comprehension

Furthermore, reading has correlated to increased brain connectivity in the left angular gyri, right posterior temporal gyri and central sulcus in participants reading a novel for 9 days; moreover, long-term changes in the bilateral somatosensory cortex were maintained. These brain regions are known to be involved in story comprehension and undertaking new perspectives[3].

Brain regions showing increased connectivity during the reading period (L symbolises the left hemisphere, while R represents right hemisphere)

A novel 2015 study[4], for the first time, decoded brain mechanisms during the sub-processes of reading - that is, activation of the left inferior frontal gyrus, the bilateral angular gyrii, the left pre-central gyrus and the medial frontal cortex.

Reading about physical movement activated the posterior temporal cortex and angular gyrus (which processes real-life movement). Reading about characters correlated to right posterior superior region activity. Reading about dialogue tended to activate the right temporoparietal junction, involved in imagination of anothers’ thoughts.[5]

These results largely revealed that reading is not merely a linguistic process - it involves brain engagement similar to as one would in real life. All these processes link to a growing theory, the “protagonist’s perspective interpreter network[6] - that is, our brain reacts in such a manner as to make us feel as the protagonist of the story.

A further 2012 study has revealed that leisure-reading and critical analysis result in different brain activation; particularly, a large proportion of the brain was involved when analytically reading the book (I could not find specific data on the brain regions activated).[7]

Other brain regions include the right middle temporal gyrus and left superior temporal gyrus[8], left precentral gyrus (PreCG), left superior parietal lobe, right PreCG, right lingual gyrus, and bilateral medial frontal gyrus[9]

The activation of these brain regions has been supported by further research[10], even when controlled for factors such as eye movement: Choi (2014) found activation in the superior temporal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus (MTG), angular gyrus (AG), inferior frontal gyrus, and middle frontal gyrus in reading subjects.[11]

In all, it’s a combination of different regions of the occipital lobe, temporal lobe, frontal cortex and some parts of the parietal lobe that activate when reading. Other parts include the angular gyrus, central sulcus, lingual gyrus and fusiform cortex.