Why reading matters.

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About this work


Presented by Rita Carter, this programme attempts to show what effects reading has on the brain. The results of latest MRI scanning technology show this is more powerful than was previously thought. The programme looks back to our hunter/gatherer ancestors' growing ability to recognise symbols; Carter explains that our brains are modular and plastic, allowing change and adaptation. Carter meets Terry Jones who woke up one morning and found he couldn't read a word - it turned out he'd had a small stroke in his sleep. Neuroscientist Cathy Price at University College London scanned his brain to find out which parts had been damaged. She compared what had happened to Terry with other people suffering similar strokes and discovered that more areas of the brain are involved in reading than previously thought. Literature professor Phil Davis wanted to know what happened to his brain when reading unusual verb / noun combinations in Shakespeare - neuroscientist Guillaume Thierry performed an EEG on his brain to show how these kind of words alter brain activity. The lives of the Bronte sisters are recounted by Juliet Barker, in particular the transformation of Emily Bronte's imaginary world into her classic story Wuthering Heights. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen is an expert in autism which he describes as 'mind-blindness' because an autistic person can not imagine what is going on in another person's mind. Carter has an MEG scan while reading action words; this shows that a written word fires up the part of the brain that would be active were we actually performing the action. We experience the emotions and events occuring in the book as though they were real for us. Reading to encourage empathy is being used as a cure for depression and other psychological disorders. But how do media technologies alter the important effects of reading? Despite the advent of television, the amount of books being bought has continued to rise. It seems more likely that computer and internet use is more of a threat to reading - Baronness Susan Greenfield believes that digital media is very detrimental to the structure of the brain and may lead to serious losses in imagination and empathy.


UK : BBC 4, 2009.

Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, color, PAL

Copyright note



Broadcast on 9 February, 2009

Creator/production credits

Produced and directed by Chris Hale.



Where to find it

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