Why Reading Jane Austen is Steroids For Your Brain

reading, movies/tv

Researchers at Stanford say it could be the perfect brain exercise.

Exercising is rough. You have to get up, go somewhere, workout, and keep moving. It's one of those things that with practice, time and movement you see a gradual progress. Those muscles start popping, and you feel healthier and happier (endorphins baby).

But when it comes to exercising the brain, that's rarely something we considering actually "going to the gym for". How many times in your adult life do you know what to do to improve your brain functioning or "exercise the brain"?

Well, new research suggests we might have an easier way for to make that brain just a little more fit. And surprisingly enough, it has a LOT to do with an author from the 1800s. As it happens, reading books by the acclaimed author Jane Austen might be the key to getting much-needed​ brain workouts. So pick up that Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park and let's dig into why.


Researchers at Stanford tested literary candidates at the university, hook up to MRI machine, and let them cozy on up to a Jane Austen novel. The preliminary results came back, and they found that there was a dramatic increase of blood flow to regions of the brain associated with paying close attention to a task.

That doesn't seem like a BIG deal. But let's break it down. Researcher Natalie Philips explained in Stanford news, "paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions." She suggests that this style of reading creates distinct patterns in the brain that are "far more complex than just work and play."

But why Jane Austen?

via Focus Features

Why can't we just read Harry Potter all day and call it extensive brain exercise?! Well, it's a different style of reading. Humanities-oriented texts help foster more of an analytic thought process, suggests Philips.

"Thinking rigorously about it-- that's of value, and that literary study provides a truly valuable exercise of people's brains." said Philips.

If we compare it to the workout analogy, we recognize that running on the treadmill gives us a differenet benefit than lifting weights right? Running burns fat and increases heart strength, whereas lifting weights helps build muscles (and that's just a few benefits). We can recognize that lifting weights might be better for increasing that muscle mass. Just how a Jane Austen novel, a historically acclaimed book, is recognized for improving your education and brain power.

We read the book, but also analyze its value, and historical significance. You start thinking about the plot, characters, and have a mini lit analyzing party in your brain.

Yes, it's harder and you might have to take small breaks to catch your breath. But it's SO good for you.


So, if you have enough "Sense and Sensibility", you'll head over to the bookstore and pick up your favorite Jane Austen book. It might just make your brain the beefiest part of your body.