Reading, learning, and neuroscience
It is our nature during infancy to investigate the world. Anything is eligible for tasting and not a few children wind up in an ER for fear of accidental poisoning, in fact 1 child every 8 minutes! (1). Regardless of the dangers, our openness and curiosity for learning drive us forward. As we mature, we learn to read, a fairly recent development in the course of human evolution. Remember that the push to expand education and reading, writing, and arithmetic to the general public is a 19th century phenomenon originally conceived to reduce the number of children in manufacturing plants and thus raise the wages of adults. In the course of a century in the US, we have moved from an average education of 3rd grade at the turn of the century to 12th grade (despite recent decline in graduation rates).
Clearly, the human brain did not evolve to read, study, or sit in a class room for six hours a day. For thousands of years, we learned through apprenticing to a mentor or from a local elder. With the advent of widespread reading, however, the expansion of knowledge spread more rapidly, gains have been made in technology, automation, transportation, and manufacturing. We have nearly freed housekeeping from manual labor: washing used to be an all-day chore (some of us are old enough to remember “wash day”); my little robot vacuums the floor, my dishwasher cleans my plates; and let’s not even talk about indoor plumbing! (As a child, my mother did not have it.)
So what happens when you read a nonfiction book, such as a self-help book or this blog? Some learning may occur initially and temporarily. But it is not permanent for we know that it's only through repetition and retrieval (i.e. practicing and testing ourselves) that new knowledge is actually solidified into learning (neurons that fire together, wire together.)
In psychotherapy, we often get a request for a book, as if that would reduce the amount of time taken for the process. Psychotherapy is a learning process that involves creating a receptive, safe, and some would say sacred space and then rehearsing what we have learned and sometimes "unlearning" it.
While a book itself cannot reduce the amount of time needed, it can accelerate the process of learning, assuming it can be discussed and explore in detail with the therapist. So sometimes, a therapist will suggest a book to be read. In those cases, a good therapist is looking for a way to help open the possibility of new information that can be transformed in to learning through rehearsing it in therapy, rehearsal being the process by which learning occurs.
So here are my top five reasons to read a nonfiction book:
1) To promote openness, curiosity, and new possibilities!
2)To participate personally in the expansion of knowledge!
3) ato help your therapist help you! Sometimes, a therapist will suggest a book to be read. In those cases, a good therapist is looking for a way to help open the possibility of new information that can be transformed in to learning through rehearsing it in therapy, rehearsal being the process by which learning occurs.
4) Because you will stimulate new neuronal activity which has been shown to be protective against dementia.
5) One of the best features of reading a book is finishing a book! As you near the end, your brain begins to feel good about your progress and releases some dopamine. Actually, the dopamine is released and then YOU experience that feeling of satisfaction. plus, you actually get another dose when you finish it, which encourages you to read another book. (Video games make “good” use of this brain feature.)
That’s the end of the blog for today! Feeling better? That's your own brain working for you!
(1) For more information about children and the ER, please check out http://www.safekids.org/ and www.cdc.gov