London: Reading writers like Shakespeare and Wordsworth can give a 'rocket-boost' to your morale and provide better therapy than self-help books, a study of the human brain has found.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool found that serious literature catches the reader's attention and triggers moments of self-reflection.
Using scanners, scientists monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read pieces of classical English literature both in their original form and in a more dumbed-down, modern translation, the 'Daily Mail' reported.
The experiments showed that more 'challenging' prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the pedestrian versions.
The academics were able to study the brain activity as readers responded to each word, and noticed how it 'lit up' as they encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult sentence structure. This reaction of the mind lasted longer than the initial electrical spark, shifting the brain to a higher gear and encouraging further reading, The Telegraph reported.
The research also found poetry, in particular, increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with 'autobiographical memory', which helped the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they had read.
The academics said this meant the classics were more useful than self-help books.
"Serious literature acts like a rocket-booster to the brain. The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike," Philip Davis, an English professor who worked on the study with the university's magnetic resonance centre, said.
Researchers found that poetry triggers 'reappraisal mechanisms', causing the reader to reflect and rethink their
own experiences. Davis hopes to scan the brains of volunteers reading Charles Dickens to test if revisions the writer made to his prose cause greater brain activity than the original text.