This is how your brain reacts when watching or reading true crime stories

Did you ever think about what goes through your brain when you read or watch true crime stories?

“Reading is a great way to expand our horizon of experiences.” This is the opinion of Raymond Mar, a doctor in psychology from the University of York, in Canada, who studied the behavior of the brain when a person reads crime stories.

And it is that reading the story of a character in a novel is almost the same as living it, according to studies on brain activity.

But this is just one of the discoveries of scientists about the enigmatic workings of the most complex human organ and its relationship with reading.


Brain vs mind

When reading or watching true crime stories, motor zones are activated in the brain as if one were performing that activity.

If there is something that scientists highlight from the beginning, it is the difference between brain and mind.

“To understand what the brain does, we have to understand what the mind does. We cannot talk about the brain on its own,” says Keith Oatley, emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada.

“It is not simply knowing if a particular area of ​​the brain is activated when we read, but in knowing how the mind works in that process”, agrees Raymond Mar, doctor of psychology from the University of York, also in Canada.


The brain takes pictures of what it reads or watches

One of the first reactions when reading is to create photos in the mind. “There is evidence that when it is read, the mind creates or remembers objects that resemble the description,” Mar told BBC.

“If you read a rich description of a scene, you can see brain activation in the visual cortex. There are similarities between perceiving and reading about perception,” he added.


Do we live what we read or watch?

Oatley and Mar concluded that the brain does not seem to clearly distinguish between reading and watching about the experience of true crime stories and experiencing that activity in real life.

“There are similarities in the way the brain reacts to reading about something and experiencing it,” Mar explained.

According to the specialist, when a person reads that a fictional character is performing a certain activity, the areas of the brain that are activated are the same as those that that person uses to carry out that action.

“As we know, when we read a true crime story whose protagonist faces a dangerous or fearful situation, we feel fear,” exemplified Mar. And this is related to empathy, the feeling of identification with something or someone.

“It was discovered that there are areas of the brain that can be monitored to see if people are empathetic in ordinary life, and those regions are the same that are activated when you are reading about characters because the psychological process is similar,” Oatley warned BBC Mundo.

According to scientists, reading a detailed description of a character can make us put ourselves in their place and almost experience their same sensations.

According to scientists, reading a detailed description of a character can make us put ourselves in their place and almost experience their same sensations.



If we read a verb that denotes activity, does the brain interpret that we are doing it?

“The motor regions in the brain that are activated when we silently read an action word are very close to the regions that are activated when the movement is carried out,” said Veronique Boulenger, a researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Dynamics Laboratory of Language in Lyon, France.



But what if I read an action verb and try to make a move at the same time?

“In the study, we asked participants to simultaneously read the action verbs on a screen and grab an object. We found that the realization of the movements was slower than performing them without reading,” explained Boulenger.

This happens because there is “interference or competition” in the brain for the use of the same brain resources, the researcher added.


Literal or idiomatic

In another study with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which tracks brain activity in real-time, Dr. Boulonger analyzed the reading of literal or idiomatic sentences, which included an action verb related to the arm or leg.

“For both types of sentences, in addition to the activation of brain regions of the language (inferior frontal and temporal cortex), activation of motor and pre-motor brain regions was observed,” he described.

What do scientists think of the tests on the cerebral hemispheres circulating on the internet?

According to the specialist, the arrows show that the phrases related to the arm activate the motor brain area that represents the arm, while the sentences with legs cause the motor activation of a different area of ​​the brain.

This response to the somatotopic of the motor cortex of the brain, which is the organization in which the different parts of the body are represented in different sub-regions of the motor cortex.