Put down those self-help books, ditch the trashy novels and read the greatest writers in the English language if you need a lift. The works of Shakespeare and Wordsworth are "rocket-boosters" to the brain and better therapy than self-improvement guides, researchers have discovered.
Academics at Liverpool University found that reading the works of the Bard and other classical writers had a beneficial effect on the mind, by catching the reader's attention and triggering moments of self-reflection.
Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read pieces by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, TS Eliot and others. They then "translated" the texts into more "straightforward", modern language and again monitored the readers' brains as they read the words. Scans showed that the more "challenging" prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain.
Scientists were able to study the brain activity as readers responded to each word and noticed how it "lit up" as they encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult structure.
This "lighting up" of the mind lasted longer than the initial electrical spark, shifting the brain to a higher gear and encouraging further reading.
The research also found that poetry, in particular, increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with "autobiographical memory", helping the reader to reflect on their own experiences in light of what they had read.