Mariella Frostrup ©BBC

Mariella Frostrup ©BBC

The news that reading Jane Austen is physical good for you – for it exercises areas of the brain not touched by other leisure activities-  has been doing the rounds on the internet for some time. Today on BBC Radio 4’s bookshelf programme, Mariella Frostrup, above, discussed just how valuable it truly is to read Jane Austen, and what benefits we can derive from it with Professor Natalie Phillips, who has undertaken all this fascinating research via the use of brain scans by Michigan State University.

This extract from the programme’s blurb explains all:

What exactly is the human brain doing when we are enjoying the magical experience of reading a good book – and what difference does it make if we are reading for pleasure, or for study? Assistant Professor of Literature at Michigan State University Professor Natalie Philips undertook to find out exactly that by asking her students to read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park in a MRI scanner in a series of experiments at America’s Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging. We discuss what the latest developments in literary neuroscience could mean for the way in which society as a whole evaluates the study of humanities and the liberal arts

This is a fascinating project, and the results thus far are stunning and very exciting. As someone who took part in developing the first MRI scanners in Cambridge (as a patient not a scientist, I hasten to add!) I find this such an interesting way to use the technology . Go here to listen again to the programme: the article about Jane Austen appears approximately 12 minutes 40 seconds in from the commencement of the programme.This will be repeated on Thursday at 15.30, but is available to “listen again ” to for a year.