Books Can Control Your Mind as Powerfully as Television

Illustration for article titled Books Can Control Your Mind as Powerfully as Television

Click to viewTales from George Orwell's 1984 to the movies Network and Videodrome are all about how people are so controlled by television that they'll do anything. Usually, books are presented as an antidote to a TV-controlled populace. But now a new neuroscience study reveals that books control people's minds and emotions in exactly the same way television does. A group of researchers the U.S. and the Netherlands peered into people's brains using fMRI machines while those people were doing a series of three tasks: reading about something disgusting, watching images of something disgusting, and actually tasting something disgusting. Turns out the same regions in their brains activated consistently regardless of whether they were imagining, watching, or tasting disgusting things. (For the curious: the "disgusting" story apparently had to do with swallowing somebody else's vomit). In an article published last night in PLoS One, the researchers write:

[This experiment] provides insights into the neural basis of the captivating experience of reading a book: While previous studies on social perception used movies of other people's experiences or arbitrarily colored symbolic cues, our combination of movies and written material in the present experiment demonstrates that reading (mental imagery) as well as watching other people experience what is imagined recruits brain regions involved in experiencing an emotion.


In other words, your emotions are toyed with in exactly the same way, regardless of whether you are reading or watching TV. Maybe that's why social critics of the nineteenth century were always going about the way the masses were having their minds ruined by books, while today's worry about ruination from videogames. Regardless of the medium, the brainwashing remains the same. A Common Anterior Insula Representation of Disgust Observation, Experience and Imagination Shows Divergent Functional Connectivity Pathways [via PLoS One]


Annalee Newitz

@Pope John Peeps II: Nathaniel Hawthorne who decried the crappy books written by what he called "hordes of scribbling women." And of course the entire plot of social critic Emile Zola's _Madame Bovary_ centers on a woman whose mind has been so polluted by the trashy books she reads that she winds up destroying her life (and the lives of those around her).