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Reading Research with the Help of a World Famous Wizard


Building on past studies of reading and the brain, computer scientists Tom Mitchell and Leila Wehbe have created one of the most comprehensive studies to date. While past research has focused only on one element of language, these ambitious researchers decided to widen the scope, testing a theory that as we read, different regions in the brain turn on. Wehbe explains that they decided to use the Harry Potter books to test their theories because “many people have read the books and are familiar with the characters and the Harry Potter world.” This choice is important because of the ability it gives readers to visualize the world of the book, an integral part of the study. Since subjects of the study would have to be inside an MRI machine where they would have to remain perfectly still in order to allow accurate imaging of the brain, the researchers needed to think of a unique way for subjects to read Harry Potter. They came up with a computer that flashed each word for a half of a second. One thing that the study found was that the same region of the brain lit up when we register movement and when we read about a character in motion. The study helps us understand why people choose reading as an alternative to movies and other media, although the answer may be more obvious in the case of Harry Potter fans.


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