Does reading fiction activate different parts of the brain than watching TV or scrolling through social media?


How does reading fiction differ from watching a show or those videos on social media platforms?

In: 1085


Social media gives you a cue, a reference, or a simple stimulus to draw you in and entertain you. Same thing with TV, it makes the image for you, or it call back to something you already know.

Fiction introduces stories, characters, sprawling landscapes, and living, breathing ideas all at once. All of these are inherently interconnected. Your mind is constantly filling in gaps, making images, searching for patterns, making voices, sounds, smells, and so much more as you take it in. Social media can do this too, but not always to this extent. It’s grounded in reality or memes, while fiction tries to immerse you in something else entirely.

TV is like fiction, but without the mental task of reading. In that way it does use very different parts of your brain, reading fiction directly forces you to use your conscious brain networks, while watching TV or simply taking in stimulus allows you to slip in to resting “bored” networks. So in these ways, reading does activate different parts of the brain.

In general terms, reading is different in many ways from TV and social media:
• It’s a more personal, lonely experience where the only one involved is the reader, and in some vague far-away way, the writer.
• It allows for more critical engagement, since text on a page stays there, instead of the ephemeral nature of TV and social media feeds.
• There is no instant social commentary – IE comments don’t exist like in social media and it doesn’t have the social aspect of TV where many can watch it at once.

I can think about more. Every media creates its own environment with many unique characteristics which all bump off each other.
Also, it’s important to add that TV and Social Media are very different from each other, and while we associate them because we think of them as useless time sinks, reading was also considered a wasteful/immoral time sink in past eras.

Recent studies show that no mainstream activity shows as much activity in the brain as reading – not math, music, tv, etc.

Yes! When we read, our brains have to imagine and be creative. We visualize scenes, layouts of rooms, what characters look and sound like, etc. Everything has to be imagined from scratch based off the author’s descriptions. It’s also useful for keeping elderly minds sharp. Excellent for young learning minds too, especially learning new words. For TV and social media, we might imagine what a setting smells or feels like based on what we see, but all the visuals are provided so it’s a more passive intake of information that requires less processing and concentration. When reading, you have to focus on the book and only the book or you can’t process what’s happening.

Sources that talk about how and what parts of the brain “light up” during each activity (What’s cool about the brain scan while reading is that it shows the readers felt like the book was actually happening to their bodies. Fully immersed!):