Social hack: Reading while in the company of others boosts creativity

MADRID, Spain — Most people prefer a little peace and quiet when they want to read. However, researchers say inviting a few friends over while you enjoy a good book is better for your brain. A team of researchers from Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) find reading in the company of others helps to spark more creativity.

Their study reveals language processing is more controlled, integrated, and possibly more creative when people read with company around.

“When we read alone, our language processing is more algorithmic, in other words, more automatic, limited and subject to rules,” explains Laura Jiménez Ortega in a media release. Ortega is a researcher in the Department of Psychobiology at the UCM.

During their study, researchers compared the differences in electrical brain activity between those reading in company and in isolation. They measured brain activity by using electroencephalography (EEG).

Study authors split participants into two groups, those reading alone and those reading with others around them. The texts each person read contained either sentence structure or semantic errors.

The in-company group showed activity in their precuneus, the social and attention-processing region of the brain. In comparison to those reading alone, their language comprehension also became more wide-ranging and coherent.

Reading with friends sparks different areas of the brain

Overall, both groups showed different brain activity patterns. For the social group, researchers discovered reading syntactic errors sparked a pattern of electrical activity characteristic of semantic processing (N400). Scientists believe this enables someone to learn more heuristically. In the other group, reading alone showed a LAN pattern, showing up as early processing of thoughts and not a global thought pattern.

“Given that company favors a more creative and integrated understanding whereas isolation leads to more detailed and systematic processing, we need to start thinking more about the impact of social interaction in research, in education and in professional settings where language comprehension is fundamental,” Jiménez Ortega concludes.

The findings appear in the journal Cortex.