How Stories Change the Brain

Karen DoughertyThe September, 2015 issue of Pediatrics features an article that has been picked up by several major news outlets. For the first time, researchers have used imaging to prove that listening to stories literally changes the function of preschoolers’ brains. Dr. Jeffrey Hutton and his co-authors of “Home Reading Environment and Brain Activation in Children Listening to Stories,” concluded:

“In preschool children listening to stories, greater home reading exposure is positively associated with activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension, controlling for household income. These neural biomarkersĀ  may help inform eco-bio-developmental models of emergent literacy.”

The report includes several pages of highly technical language accompanied by functional MRI scans of the children’s brains. The authors offer candid analyses of the limits of their research, but the results are both tantalizing and affirming to the literacy advocates among us. If you listen carefully, you might here a chorus of reading advocates singing, “By golly, we knew it.” ParentChildReadingrs

So now I wonder: If stories change the very architecture of a child’s developing brain, what effect do they have on older brains? Do my students seem to respond to stories because their parents read to them, or do their brains also function differently when exposed to narratives?

Check back with us regularly for upcoming posts on the power of storytelling.


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