This Is Your Brain on Shakespeare: New Study Says Classic Lit Gives the Mind a Boost

Next time you need a brain boost, put down the self help book and pick up some Shakespeare.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool found that reading classical literature by writers like the Bard, William Wordsworth or T.S. Eliot  has positive effects on the mind and triggers self-reflection.

Volunteers were recruited to read “challenging” prose, like passages from Shakespeare’s King Lear or Macbeth, while scanners monitored their brain activity. Then, participants read “translated” passages, or classical pieces rewritten in simpler, modern language. What was discovered is that the classics sparked more electrical activity in the brain, “lighting up” when readers encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult sentence structure.

Researchers say that means serious literature is like a “rocket-booster” to the brain and has the power to “shift mental pathways and create new thoughts, shapes and connections.” Reading poetry was especially beneficial because it caused readers to reflect on their own experiences and connect to what they read.

The research team has plans to expand their work to the therapeutic spectrum, like studying the effect of reading on people with dementia.

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