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Guest Feature – Madelyn Griffith – Haynie on The Power of Reading

Guest Featured Author

 

 I am excited today to feature ADD and Executive Brain Functioning Coach, Madelyn Griffith-Haynie.

 

I’ve had the good fortune to become good friends with Madelyn this past year when I began following her uber informative and always entertaining blog articles about everything brain related. It’s no surprise that Madelyn has a huge following, but it was to my delighted surprise when I invited Madelyn to my blog, asking if she’d like to be featured here as a guest, and she was eager and happy to accept.

 

Madelyn has written a fantastic article on the importance of reading books and explains in her post, just how far the information we retain from reading can help us relate to others, how reading benefits us as we age, the beneficial impact reading has on warding off Alzheimer’s disease, and much more!

 

 Welcome Madelyn!

 

Reading a book has the power to reshape your brain
and improve your ability to relate to others

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Executive Functioning Series

Reading more but enjoying it less?

Thanks to our ability to scroll through endless words on our computers, tablets and smart phones, more people are reading than ever before.

Still, while the act of reading itself has increased, there is a significant difference between reading anything and reading a book that pulls you into the mind of the author as you take a mental vacation.

Even hours of reading on FaceBook, or skipping from blog to blog reading multiple articles on various subjects, does not seem to have the same positive effect as reading a novel, a memoir or a carefully curated collection of short-stories.

And the more time we spend online, the less time we have for reading those wonderful books on our TBR lists (“To Be Read”).

That’s a real shame, too, because reading a good book is not only an enjoyable, affordable “vacation” that broadens our perspective, it turns out that science has discovered that it actually improves our brain functioning in ways that translate to improved thinking, mood, functional intelligence, more positive and productive connections in our lives, and so-much-MORE.

The impact of a BOOK

Reading a book not only gives us access to someone else’s mindset and world view, it also seems to increase our ability to empathize with people in our day to day lives.

I’m sure that most of us who are avid readers are well acquainted with the feeling of stepping into another world while we read.  Most of us also find that our view of our “real” world changes for days afterwards, even when we are not actively thinking about the story-line, the subject matter or the characters.

In my own experience, for example, after spending an evening with a character I could see clearly in my mind’s eye, for a few days following I have often felt like I was reacting as they might have. Sometimes I have the almost eerie sensation that I have taken on that character’s mannerisms.

Science has discovered that there’s a brain-based reason for that experience.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.” ~ neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns

Being captured by the world of a book with a strong narrative can trigger measurable changes in the brain — changes that linger for at least five days after reading.

Reading books and changing brain function

Research from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia (published in the journal Brain Connectivity) found that reading a book can increase neural connectivity in a manner that mimics muscle memory.

Study changes were registered in two key areas of the brain:

  1. the left temporal cortex, an area associated with  language receptivity, as well as, surprisingly,
  2. the brain’s primary sensory motor region, the central sulcus, associated with sensations and movement.

Neurons of the second region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is actually doing something by merely thinking yourself through the activity.

Referred to as “grounded cognition,” that is the explanation given for the effectiveness of the practice of mental rehearsal used effectively by many athletes.

Thanks to the phenomenon of  grounded cognition, it seems that merely thinking about the specifics of an athletic activity can activate the neurons associated with the physical doingof that activity.

In some cases, practicing mentally has been reported to improve performance almost as much as if the athletes had strained and sweated their way through an actual practice session.

Who knew that the same areas could be activated by narrative reading?

“The anterior [front] bank of the sulcus contains neurons that control movement of parts of the body,” Berns, lead author of the study above explained. He went on to say that the posterior [back] region contains neurons that receive sensory input from various parts of the body.

The enhanced connectivity in the posterior region suggests that the act of reading “transports” the reader into the body of the protagonist.  Amazing, right?

About the Study

21 students took part initially. All participants read the same book –  Pompeii, a 2003 thriller by Robert Harris.

“The story follows a protagonist, who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano,”explained Berns. “It depicts true events in a fictional and dramatic way. It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.”

For 19 days the students read an assigned portion of the book in the evening. They underwent fMRI scans the following morning. Once the book was finished, the study continued for an additional five days as their brains were scanned daily.

“Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity,”noted Berns. “We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.”

The changes could not only be seen on the scans during the days when they were reading, they remained evident for the five days once the subjects had finished the book.  This finding seems to prove that the impact was not just an immediate reaction but one that has a lasting effect – likely to last longer than the five additional days that were part of the study design.

But wait!  There’s more . . .

More effects from bookish vacations

Linguistics studies like the ones included in a fascinating book by reading expert Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid, tell us that our brain changes substantially as the result of learning to read.

Later research has shown that
those beneficial changes continue AS we read.

One effect, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, is that losing yourself in a narrative book is highly likely to increase your sense of empathy across the board.

Netherlands researchers designed two experiments that showed that people who were “emotionally transported” experienced an increase in their ability to understand and identify with the feelings of others.  And it happens quickly, too.

“In two experimental studies, we were able to show that self-reported empathic skills significantly changed over the course of one week for readers of a fictional story by fiction authors Arthur Conan Doyle or José Saramago,” they wrote in their findings.

“More specifically, highly transported readers of Doyle became more empathic, while non-transported readers of both Doyle and Saramago became less empathic.”

Not only that, evidence is continually emerging that reading “content-dense” material (i.e., books not tweets) is what the science field refers to as “neuro-protective,” increasing the likelihood that we will remain mentally sharp as we age and decreasing our chances of developing one of the dementias.

Related posts on ADDandSoMuchMORE.com:
You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age
Good news on brain-aging from The Nun Study

Another Mental Aging Study

According to a study of 294 participants over an average of 5.8 years of annual cognitive function testing and an average age of death at 89, the news is great for readers – not so great for those who lounge around texting or watching television.

Published in the online issue of the journal Neurology, they reported that those who engaged throughout their lives in mentally stimulating activities like reading experienced slower memory decline compared to those who did not.

In addition, individuals who exercised their minds later in life had a 32% lower rate of mental decline compared to their peers with average mental activity. The average rate of decline in the group with infrequent mental activity was 48% faster than the average group.

“Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age,” study author Robert. S. Wilson of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago said in an interview.

“Based on [our findings], we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents.

Warding off Alzheimer’s disease?

According to research published in 2001 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], adults who engage in hobbies like reading seem less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Lead author Dr. Robert P. Friedland, a University of Louisville clinical and research neurologist devoted to the study of brain disorders associated with aging, told USA Today in an interview:

“The brain is an organ just like every other organ in the body. It ages in regard to how it is used. Just as physical activity strengthens the heart, muscles and bones, intellectual activity strengthens the brain against disease.”

It’s important to note that the researchers identified only an association, not a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

“These findings may be because inactivity is a risk factor for the disease or because inactivity is a reflection of very early subclinical effects of the disease, or both,” they admitted in their study.

Read more about the study in the article from USA Today

TONS of other benefits

In further articles I will explore some of these benefits in more detail, but reading a book also has been shown to have positive effects in a great many other arenas, only a few listed below:

  • Lifting depression & stress management (in only 6 minutes, by the way)
  • Stronger and more reliable memory formation
  • Better quality of sleep
  • Improved “receptive” vocabulary
    (the number of words that an individual recognizes & understands)
  • Faster foreign language learning
    (even when you only read books in your native tongue)
  • Enhanced creativity & increased emotional intelligence, and
  • Increased impetus to make a difference in the world we share

So what are you waiting for?

Grab one of those books you’ve been meaning to get around to reading, get comfortable and get to it. It turns out that relaxing on the couch is some of the most effective exercise you can get — but it only works when you are relaxing AS YOU READ a BOOK!

©Mysticartdesign – Creative Commons – Found HERE

© 2017, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
(reblogs always okay, and much appreciated)


After saying goodbye to her first career as an actor/director, award-winning ADD Poster Girl Madelyn Griffith-Haynie founded the ADD/EFD Coach Training field and co-founded the ADD Coaching field.

She now works with and supports, privately and in her comprehensive brain-based blog articles, individuals with all sorts of Executive Functioning challenges (prioritizing & planning, organization & follow-through, time, task & mood management and so-much-MORE).  She has been coaching folks to “learn to drive the very brain they were born with” for over 25 years.


You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on her site and elsewhere.

Related articles on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

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BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

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D.G. Kaye is a nonfiction/memoir writer, who writes from her own life experiences and self-medicates with a daily dose of humor.

133 Comments

  • hilarymb

    Hi Debby and Madelyn – gosh what a comprehensive post … and one I will definitely be back to read through properly again … what a great set of resources you’ve given us – thank you so much … cheers Hilary

  • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

    Debby, I am truly touched by your generosity, honored that you invited me to write something to be featured here. I loved doing the research once I hit on a topic. My challenge was deciding which benefits to feature and which to merely list. I could easily have written thousands more words — lol 🙂

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to share the news with your community — readers ALL! We’ll be sharp as tacks for decades to come – still blogging and adding to our TBR lists, no doubt.
    xx,
    mgh

  • Jeri Walker (@JeriWB)

    When I taught college composition and assigned essays for class discussion, I would spend a good deal of time teaching the difference between active and passive reading. It was time well spent in order to get students more apt to really dig into the themes and craft of the essay, rather than just reading for “entertainment.”

  • marianbeaman

    What a magnificent post: Reading is like breathing to me. I always have a stack of books by my bedside and I collect quotes about books too. Here is one of my favorites: “So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
    Go throw your TV set away,
    And in its place you can install
    A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
    Then fill the shelves with lots of books.”
    ― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

    Thank you, thank you, Debby and Madelyn!

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      I really love this quote. I threw my own TV away over 25 years ago, Marian – and I’ve run out of walls for more bookshelves – really! Recently watched “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on Hulu, btw — probably the last person on the planet who hadn’t seen it. 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading and ringing in.
      xx,
      mgh

  • Ali Isaac

    This is a super post! There is nothing better than that ‘lost in a story’ feeling you get from a good book! It can definitely last for days after finishing, but as well as euphoria, there can also be a sense of grieving that the book is over. Sometimes I feel a bit disorientated after, as if something really important is missing from my life! ? But I had no idea that science had actually identified and explained all This, or that reading could do so much more for you than providing entertainment, particularly in later life… what great news!

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      I always knew that reading was an instant feel good when I was feeling down – even before I read the science. And I have always said that reading “scratches my brain” — as satisfying as scratching a bug-bite.

      Until I did the research I always thought of it more as a metaphor. Now I’m not so sure. I wonder if those of us who love to read somehow feel the good things we are doing for our brains – maybe part of the reason we love reading?

      Thanks for taking the time to ring in on BOTH blogs, John – and for reblogging. You’re a doll!
      xx,
      mgh

  • roughwighting

    Oohh, love this post. Everything I’ve thought intuitively about the value of reading, is validated here by Madelyn through her scientific research/links. In so many ways, it just makes sense that if we read and enter the world of a character, following her highs and lows, her struggles and her joys, we would gain empathy and understanding. This is why I’m always leery of people who don’t read books. Non-readers’ minds are narrowed and smaller just by the fact that they haven’t reached other countries, people of other skin colors and faiths, other religions, perhaps even other universes, by not reading. Great great post. Thank you Madelyn, and thank you Debby for bringing her to us in your blog.

    • dgkaye

      Thank you Pam for your lovely contribution here. I loved your comment and you hit the nail on the head when you said that people who don’t read minds are narrowed that is so true! Hard to hold object opinions even if our minds aren’t opened up by possibilities instead of only what we see daily. 🙂 x

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      Oohh, love this comment, Pam! It DOES make sense, psychologically – and isn’t it great to have some validation from the science guys that it makes sense *neuro-logically* as well?

      I was especially struck by this finding: “… highly transported readers … became *more* empathic, while non-transported readers … became LESS empathic.”

      That indicated to me that not only do their minds fail to expand, they are actually constricted. It’s not “proven,” of course, but it seems highly likely that empathy is a necessary component for ongoing brain “expansion” – making new connections which are, of course, what keeps us brain-healthy as we age.

      Thank you so much taking the time to read and comment, and especially for underscoring this important point.
      xx,
      mgh

  • Chuck

    Hi Debbie and Madelyn,

    It is such a beautiful endeavor when as authors we support each other’s work. When I joined what I like to call the WordPress group, I found nothing but open and accepting individuals willing to help and promote newbies like myself. I have learned and continue to learn so much from so many individuals. Each in their own way. This post is demonstrative of the support and caring that goes on each day. Thank you both for your leadership in our writers’ group here on WordPress. HUGS.

    • dgkaye

      Chuck, thank you for your beautiful comment. It is so true – it takes a village. We write in solitude but and it’s the community that is there for us who supports us and who often pick us up in those times when we need a little bit of a voice from others who only understand a writer’s life. <3

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      Great comment, Chuck – underscoring the main reason most of us blog, IMHO. I, too, have found the writers who blog on WordPress the most supportive and uplifting folks on the planet. Like keeps attracting like.

      btw- My “Getting beyond PTSD Triggers” post is still queued (first Monday in Sept. I think) – it begins by acknowledging your contribution to the idea, with links to your blog and to your original comment on a prior article. See you then (if not before). 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to read and leave this lovely comment.
      xx,
      mgh

  • Christy B

    As always, Madelyn thoroughly covers the topic! These benefits are awesome and as an avid reader I’m very happy to know them 🙂 My grandma read books until the very end of her life at age 100 so I’m thinking it helped her considerably. Along with the cups of tea we shared, perhaps <3 Now excuse me while I go read a book 😉 Love you, Debby and Madelyn!

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      Your comments always light me up, Christy. I am grinning like a Halloween pumpkin over this one – especially reading that you seem to have won the longevity gene lottery. I’m sure the tea and your loving attention made a difference in addition to the fact that she was a life-long reader (science-backed, btw).

      If your posts are any indication, you are doing so many great things for your brain you may live even longer than your dear grandma — sharp as a tack! 🙂 Thanks for reading here and taking the time to leave your thoughts.
      xx,
      mgh

  • Vashti Q

    Wonderful and informative post. I began reading early in life and its made me who I am today. I love reading, so it’s wonderful to see all the benefits it has on us. Great resources. Thank you Debby and Madelyn! <3 xx

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Vashti. My mother read to me as a child — and I’m sure that’s one reason that I learned to read quite early as well. I absolutely loved everything about it, and happily took over the task of reading to my siblings (probably where my love of acting got its start).

      I was so proud to read “above grade level” and gravitated toward the “BIG books” for my own reading because it made me feel so grown up to be able to read them. I’m sure I missed as much as I caught about the greater themes in those early days, but I think my early exposure made me who I am today as well. It certainly cemented my love of books.
      xx,
      mgh
      (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
      ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
      “It takes a village to educate a world!”

  • blondieaka

    Wow…What a wonderful post I have sat here for the last half hour just clicking through links..I always knew the brain was amazing and I love Melanie’s way of talking through a subject in language I understand ( no jargon) My hubbie who had probably hardly read a book in his life…now retired and there is no stopping him..but who am I am to do that I now don’t get the look that says how can you read and stir a pot..you can…lol..but he understands my passion now…Only took him 40 plus years… Great guest post Debby Hugs 🙂

  • Annika Perry

    Madelyn, it’s lovely to ‘meet’ you here and I’m fascinated by your post. I’ve always believed in the power and positive benefits of reading but this detailed analysis on so many levels is a resounding endorsement to read…and how true that one must be relaxed! Sometimes I’m rushing to finish a book and I’m more stressed than ever and haven’t enjoyed the experience at all.

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      Nice to “meet” you too, Annika, and funny you should say that, I just responded to a comment recommending The Goldfinch (almost 800 pages!). I had recently read it, but I had to rush through it in only two days before a book club discussion. You described my experience perfectly! I can only read for pleasure when I have the time to savor it. Truth to tell, I don’t rush well period! 🙂
      xx,

      You aren’t related to Jay Perry by any chance?
      mgh

      • Annika Perry

        Madelyn, ditto on the not having to rush!! I read The Goldfinch a while back and whilst the writing was superb, in m opinion it was overlong…I’d love to be part of your book club discussing this. Oh, now I’m intrigued. Jay Perry? No relation that I know of…is it another blogger?

        • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

          No, Jay’s a “life” coach that started with me in the group that began the field, thanks to the visionary leadership of the late Thomas Leonard – another of the first 7 original TeleClass leaders back in the day.

          VERY funny guy, and I’ve lost track of him in the intervening years. I’d love to know what he has been doing since.

          I would have cut out a lot of the research detail included in the Goldfinch – just used it as background. Apparently her editor and she were on the same page, and hated to cut much of anything. I’ll never know what I might have thought if I could have read it at a more leisurely pace, but I do agree with you: overlong.
          xx,
          mgh

  • Claire Saul (PainPalsBlog)

    Thanks so much for sharing on Blogger’s Pitstop #87! This is a great post and so informative. I have included a link on PainPalsBlog regular feature Monday Magic – Inspiring Blogs for You! and as an avid reader (& occasional reviewer)so pleased to have found & follow you, Claire

    • dgkaye

      Thank you so much Claire for visiting and sharing. Madelyn is a fantastic Executive Mind thinker and it was a treat to have her post here about the many benefits of reading. 🙂

        • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

          Thanks again, Clair, for helping to spread the word – you are a doll. Your blog is now on MY “tbr list” (lol – for blogs, distinct from my “TBR List” for books). I’m looking forward to reading more from you, since some of my neuro-diverse followers deal with chronic pain as well. Whenever I tackle that topic on my blog, get ready for a few pings! I know JUST where to start my research.
          xx,
          mgh

  • Norah Colvin

    As if we needed any convincing! But what a great article. Thank you Debby and Madelyn! It’s always good to know that our beliefs are backed up by science. 🙂 Time to grab another book to read!

  • Sarah Brentyn

    Fantastic post. I knew some of these benefits but not all. So interesting…though I’m not surprised. One thing I love that you pointed out is reading online (popping around from one blog to another) does not have the same positive effect as reading a book. Yet another reason to make more time for our TBR lists! ? Thanks for sharing this, Debby and Madelyn.

  • Deborah Jay

    Absolutely fascinating, particularly the part about grounded cognition, which is something I work with a lot when coaching my sports clients – something I have found extremely successful myself when competing. The extension to a reader’s experience is not something I’d considered before.
    Thanks for this excellent feature ladies 😀

    • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      Great comment, Deborah – especially since you already understand the benefits of grounded cognition because you USE it yourself and with your clients. Now you have a few new words to help explain it to them as you coach them.

      Even the scientists were surprised to discover that reading activated the “grounded” area in the brain. So far they’ve only found it with narratives (i.e., not reading instructions, etc. – the reader seems to have to identify with a character or the voice in which the piece is written).

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and ring in. May you win the competitions you enter! What’s your sport?
      xx,
      mgh

      • Deborah Jay

        I always love to learn more about the psychology underlying performance, though my degree is in physiology, not psychology – I just find it fascinating, and now its useful in both work and in developing characters for my books. Great to see how it affect readers too.
        I am a professional dressage rider and coach, working at top National level and with a couple of International riders – I’ve ridden Internationally myself. I so love my sport! Nothing quite like discovering how to mesh human and horse psyches to produce living art.

  • swamiyesudas

    My Dear Madelyn, Thank You for being there and for Your kind support. Went through Your post, and, er, having already been an avid reader, certainly concur with all that You say, though frankly, have very little time to read nowadays! 🙁 …The graphics You have used are simply SUPERB! Kudos on that too. Love and Regards. 🙂

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