What writing does to your brain – and that of your readers’

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pop art brains

I for one have always been curious about what’s actually going on inside my brain when I’m writing – no doubt a symptom of watching too much BrainCraft. And I’m not just talking about wondering where my crazy thoughts come from or about the massive headache I get when something just isn’t working either – I mean scientifically. And then yesterday I happened to stumble upon this infographic on Pinterest and couldn’t help but share this post about the impact writing and reading have on the fleshy matter inside your skull – because it’s pretty amazing.

SEE ALSO: How using Pinterest can make you a better writer

Amazing Facts on Writing and How it Affects Our Brain [Infographic] - An Infographic from BestInfographics.coAmazing Facts About Writing And How It Affects Our Brains | Best Infographics

Broken up into four major sections the graphic explores different impacts writing has on our brains, giving us hints – not only on how writing benefits the author – but how you can adapt your writing to create long lasting positive impacts on your readers’ minds.

#1 Don’t trade all your pens for a keyboard just yet

A study published in 2010 by by Anne Mangen and Jean-Luc Velay compared the different brain processes that were used when hand writing and typing, finding cognitive benefits in putting pen to paper.

They found strong links between handwriting and the overall skill of writing and reading. The act of writing with one hand as opposed to typing with two, actually uses more complex brain power – meaning children who don’t learn the technique essentially miss out on important developmental processes.

According to the study handwriting engaged the following three brain processes:

  1. Visual processes – seeing what you are writing on the paper in front of you.
  2. Motor – using fine motor skills to put pen to paper and form letters and words.
  3. Cognitive – Remembering the shapes of letters and words which can later be recalled by the brain.

In essence this means that writing things down actually helps us to remember them. The physical act of putting pen to paper, brings information to the forefront of the brain so you pay more attention to it. If that’s not an incentive to handwrite my shopping list I don’t know what else is.

#2 Story telling illicits the same response as experiencing

At my first job after I graduated from university, I had to do a lot of public speaking. I was pretty horrible at it so my boss shipped me off to Toast Masters and one of the first things I learnt was to use stories in my speeches – not just present information.

New research proves that storytelling is a super useful tool when trying to convey information to an audience. This is because the brain doesn’t distinguish between reading (or hearing) about an experience and actually experiencing it. In both cases the same neurological regions are stimulated.

The brain doesn’t distinguish between reading about an experience and actually experiencing it Click To Tweet

If we’re being told a story, not only are the language centres in our brain being activated but so are the parts of the brain associated with experiencing the story’s events. The graphic uses the example of ‘kicking’ or ‘running’. If either of these actions are mentioned in the story then the motor cortex will light up. If the story involves a man ‘with hands like leather’ our sensory cortex lights up.

The Princeton University Study mentioned in the graphic is one of the most fascinating things I’ve read. It suggests that the brain of the storyteller and the brain of the listener can actually synchronise. This link is described as ‘speaker–listener neural coupling’ and can be seen in the image below.

brain mri scans showing effects of storytelling

Story telling is a powerful form of communication that can “plant emotions, thoughts, and ideas into the brain of the listener”.

As Annie Murphy Paul explained her fantastic March 2012 essay Your Brain on Fiction,

“The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.”

#3 Don’t use clichés

As mentioned before, when hearing a textual metaphor the parietal operculum (the region of the brain responsible for sensing texture through touch) is actually activated in the same way as if you were actually feeling it.

Research conducted at Emory University revealed the same region is not activated when the metaphor was replaced with a phrase meaning the same thing. For example while a metaphor like ‘the singer had a velvet voice’ stimulated the sensory cortex, sentences such as ‘the singer had a pleasing voice’ did not.

On the other hand, using clichés in your writing can massively undermine this sensory effect on your reader’s brain. Studies show that our brains – familiar and tired of the overuse of these ideas – actually dilute the sensory response they are meant to evoke – to the point where we simply accept them as a collection of words.

#4 Other brainy facts

  • Writing has a positive impact on our mind, especially freewriting which can be meditative and act as a remedy for stress. It’s often why psychologists recommend journal writing.

SEE ALSO: How you can free yourself with freewriting and create a creative compost heap

  • A controversial study which observed writers writing fiction in an MRI has found some similarities between what’s going on in their heads and what goes on in people skilled at other complex actions such as music or sport.
  • Reading can boost your emotional intelligence.
  • 97% of people who are trying out a pen will write their own name.
  • Books contain 50% more rare words than prime TV – therefore reading is a more successful way to increase your vocabulary.
Books contain 50% more rare words than TV Click To Tweet

What effect does writing have on you? Do you believe story telling can implant ideas into your head? What do you think about using cliches? Let me know in the comments.

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