How Reading Enhances Mind and Body

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We don’t read much in Nigeria. Well, many reasons, including time-pressure and poverty, are often brandished, but researchers have observed that reading literary fiction has many psychological and even physical benefits.

 

Many studies addressing the benefits of reading books have pointed out that reading is not just for passing time. The other benefits include the following:

Increased empathy

Literary fiction, in particular, which simulates the social world, may help to boost our empathy with others. In a study by Professor Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist and novelist, people were given a test of empathy after they had either read some literary fiction or some nonfiction. It was the literary fiction which produced the most empathetic response in people.

Professor Oatley explained the results:

“Just three such phrases were enough to produce the most activation of the hippocampus, a brain region associated with learning and memory. Writers don’t need to describe scenarios exhaustively to draw out the reader’s imagination–they only need to suggest a scene.” Literary fiction, in particular, which simulates the social world, may help to boost our empathy with others. One study gave people a test of empathy after they had either read some literary fiction or some nonfiction.

It was the literary fiction which produced the most empathetic response in people.

Professor Oatley said: “The most important characteristic of being human is that our lives are social. What’s distinctive about humans is that we make social arrangements with other people–with friends, with lovers, with children–that aren’t pre-programmed by instinct. Fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience.”

Higher rationality and creativity

Reading has repeatedly been linked to creativity. A study has found that, after reading fiction, people have a lower ‘need for closure’. The ambiguous nature of fiction encourages people to accept more ambiguous thoughts. Thinking about and accepting ambiguity is thought to be a key to creativity.

When you can entertain multiple perspectives, it is easier to see new possibilities.

The study in which participants’ brains were scanned before, during and five days after reading a novel has found persistent neurological changes. The results showed that there were changes in the brain’s resting state that persisted after participants had finished reading the novel.

The lead author, Gregory Berns, explained:

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

The heightened connectivity was seen in the areas of the brain associated with receptivity to language: the left temporal cortex. However, these changes in resting brain state were relatively short-lived.

The scans also revealed greater activity in the area of the brain responsible for the sense of touch and embodiment. The changes here persisted for five days after participants had finished reading the novel.

Berns said, “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. 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.”

So, while reading a good novel can leave its mark psychologically in the mind, it can also leave its mark biologically on the brain.

Lower prejudice

Learning about other people’s worlds can help to reduce prejudice. One study of the Harry Potter books suggested that they could significantly reduce prejudice against homosexuals, refugees and immigrants.

Recent research shows that extended contact via story reading is a powerful strategy to improve out-group attitudes. We conducted three studies to test whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refugees). Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (in Italy and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis. Identification with the main character (i.e., Harry Potter) and disidentification from the negative character (i.e., Voldemort) moderated the effect. Perspective taking emerged as the process allowing attitude improvement. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed in the context of extended intergroup contact and social cognitive theory.

Stave off dementia

Activities that stimulate the brain have been shown to stave off dementia.

And what could be much more stimulating than some challenging reading?

One study found that people who read later in life have a 32% lower rate of declining mental abilities. Other studies have also suggested that reading is linked to lowered risk of Alzheimer’s.

Extend life

According to a study, reading books can enhance lifespan for up to two years and improve the quality of life. The study found that people who read books for just 30 minutes a day lived two years longer compared to non-book readers.

There are books everywhere to read. Even though the Amazon Kindle and other types of e-books have got more popular over time, printed book sales are increasing. Nielsen BookScan reported 571 million print books were sold in the U.S.  last year, which is greater than print books sales in 2014.

PIX: Library.jpg

Oldest Copy of the Bible Published 

The Codex Sinaiticus or the “Sinai Bible” has been published as a complete book on www.Codexsinaiticus.org for the first time since it was discovered at a Monastery in Egypt in 1844. The project cost a £1 million. The British Library digitally reconnected the manuscript, which has been housed in libraries in the UK, Russia, Egypt and Germany.

According to Wikipedia, “Sinai Bible” is one of the four great uncial codices, an ancient, handwritten copy of the Greek Bible. The codex is a celebrated historical treasure.

The codex is an Alexandrian text-type manuscript written in the 4th century in uncial letters on parchment. Current scholarship considers the Codex Sinaiticus to be one of the best Greek texts of the New Testament, along with that of the Codex Vaticanus. Until the discovery by Constatin von Tischendorf of the Sinaiticus text, the Codex Vaticanus was unrivaled.

The Codex Sinaiticus came to the attention of scholars in the 19th century a Saint in the Sinai Peninsula, with further material discovered in the 20th and 21st centuries. Although parts of the Codex are scattered across four libraries around the world, most of the manuscript is today vested in the British Library London, where it is on public display. Since its discovery, study of the Codex Sinaiticus has proven to be extremely useful to scholars for critical studies of biblical text.

While large portions of the Old Testament is missing, it is assumed that the Codex originally contained the whole of both Testaments. Approximately half of the Greek Old Testament survived, along with a complete New Testament, the entire apocrypha plus the Epistle of Barnabas and portions of  The Shepherd of Hermas.

The codex consists of parchment, originally in double sheets, which may have measured about 40 by 70 cm. The whole codex consists, with a few exceptions, of quiries of eight leaves, a format popular throughout the Middle Ages. Each line of the text has some twelve to fourteen Greek unicial letters, arranged in four columns (48 lines in column) with carefully chosen line breaks and slightly ragged right edges.

 When opened, the eight columns thus presented to the reader have much of the appearance of the succession of columns in a papyrus roll. The poetical books of the Old Testament are written in only two columns per page. The codex has almost 4,000,000 uncial letters.

The work was written in scripto continua with neither breathings nor polytonic accents. Occasional points and fewligatures are used, though nomina scara with overlines are employed throughout. Some words usually abbreviated in other manuscripts (such as πατηρ and δαυειδ), are in this codex both written in full and abbreviated forms.

Each rectangular page has the proportions 1.1 to 1, while the block of text has the reciprocal proportions, 0.91 (the same proportions, rotated 90°). If the gutters between the columns were removed, the text block would mirror the page’s proportions.

The folios are made of vellum parchment primarily from calf skins, secondarily from sheep skins. (Tischendorf himself thought that the parchment had been made from antelope skins, but modern microscopic examination has shown otherwise.) Most of the quires or signatures contain four leaves save two containing five. It is estimated that about 360 animals were slaughtered for making the folios of this codex, assuming all animals yielded a good enough skin. As for the cost of the material, time of scribes and binding, it equals the lifetime wages of one individual at the time.

 “That’s quite a big difference,” said Juan Garces who curated the project for the British Library.

“It is unusual because in the other Gospels, you have the appearance of the risen Christ. You would read the Gospel of Mark differently.

“It shows how important this book is in studying Bible history.”

Two religious works, the Epistle of St Barnabus and Shepherd of Hermas, are included that do not appear in later versions.

Mr Garces said: “They are not part of any copy nowadays,” “It contains a very old version of the Bible.

“It was one of the first attempts to define Christianity.”

He added that the Codex, which is made up of multi-paged ‘quires’ or mini-booklets of sheets of folded parchment, is a “treasure” in the history of book-making.

He said: “It was a cutting edge technological achievement.

“In the third and fourth century, literary works were written on scrolls, not on codices.

“That development was achievement, making a book like this was a big, big project. It was the highlight of early bookmaking. It’s such a valuable book, it’s irreplaceable.” The Codex Sinaiticus gets its name from the Monastery of St Catherine at Mount Sinai where it was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century by German Bible scholar Constantine Tischendorf.

Some 43 pages still reside at the University Library in Leipzig.

The remaining pages are divided between the British Library, who purchased 347 leaves from Stalin’s Soviet government, the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg and St Catherine’s monastery where it was found.

“You would have had to travel to any of the four venues to see the book,” Mr Garces said. “You couldn’t just leaf through it.

“Having it online and accessible is a huge change. I hope it will open a new horizon on the Bible reader, in appreciating how difficult it was to create such a Bible in the Fourth Century and how amazing it was that it survived in such good shape over the years.

“I do hope it will be open to any person who wants to look at it.”