A recent study that will be published in an upcoming edition of Psychological Science discovered that readers vividly simulate what they are reading in their minds. Reading activates regions of the brain that would normally activate when actually performing or observing the activity. For centuries, the Bible has told Christians to not only avoid sinful actions, but to avoid sinful thoughts as well. Early Christian thinkers like Tertullian warned to avoid entertainment like the theater, because even pretend ignorance could entice a Christian to sin. If imagining an activity through reading produces nearly identical brain activity to actually doing the activity, then perhaps Christians should rethink some of the entertainment that they deem as harmless.
In Matthew 5:28, Jesus said that if you look at a woman with lust, it is as if you have already committed adultery in your heart. When a person thinks lustful thoughts, they often imagine adulterous actions. According to this new study, the brain activity that goes on while imagining adultery would be similar to the brain activity that would occur if a person actually did commit the act. Perhaps this is one reason why pornography can be so destructive. Romance novels and soap operas also can cause people to imagine adulterous situations.
Violent video games have also been linked to violent behaviors in individuals. If just reading about committing a murder induces brain patterns that resemble actually murdering someone, watching a character that you control murder someone probably would have an equivalent effect on your brain. Popular video games like the Grand Theft Auto series entice millions of people to imagine vices like carjacking, murder, and prostitution. If our brain waves react as if we’re actually doing those actions, that’s probably not a good thing for our society.
Philippians 4:8 tells Christians to think on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. While many Christians do try to live upright, moral lives, we live in a society that produces a lot of entertainment that wouldn’t exactly pass this test. The television and movies we watch, the books we read, the games we play, and the music that we listen to all cause us to imagine things. According to this study, our brains are probably reacting like it would if we did the things we imagine. In essence, we are what we read. Perhaps that should give Christians another reason to monitor their entertainment to make sure that what they are imagining is pleasing to God.
“De Spectaculis (On The Games)”. The Tertullian Project. http://www.tertullian.org/works/de_spectaculis.htm
Everding, Gerry. “Readers Build Vivid Mental Simulations Of Narrative Situations, Brain Scans Suggest.” Physorg.com. January 26, 2009. http://www.physorg.com/news152210728.html
The Bible. Matthew 5:28 and Philippians 4:8.
“Grand Theft Auto IV”. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Auto:_IV