Regal Research: Harnessing Neuroscience for The Queen’s Reading Room

When you hear the word neuroscience, what comes to mind? Scientists in white coats? Huge fMRI scanners? People strapped to a chair looking on nervously as electrodes are attached to their scalp?

Truth be told, consumer neuroscience is an increasingly accessible method available to researchers like us. It allows us to dig a little deeper into our client’s questions, adding a new dimension to market research.   

The Queen’s Reading Room

The Queen’s Reading Room is a charity which celebrates and promotes the power of reading. They commissioned Trinity McQueen to explore the connection between reading fiction and three different aspects of wellbeing – mental health, brain health and social connectedness.   

Their brief went beyond traditional objectives which could be neatly categorised into the qualitative (e.g. motivations for reading) and the quantitative (e.g. what proportion of each age group read regularly). 

It also touched on objectives relating to concentration and emotion: these are inaccessible to introspection. We augmented our approach with neuroscientific methods able to measure these aspects. 

EEG headsets take readings from the scalp to infer cognitive functions like emotional intensity, frustration and long-term memory encoding. We combined them with medical-grade smart watches which measure skin conductance and heart rate, to infer psychological and emotional states. Used together, these “biometric” tools helped close the say-do gap.

We applied them within a lab setting in a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis that reading fiction is calming, de-stressing and helps one cope with the problems of everyday life.

The Methodology

  • 30 respondents were divided into an experimental group (n.21) and a control group (n.9). 
  • The experimental group were all moderate to high-frequency readers. They completed an “everyday problems questionnaire” (EPQ) while having biometric recordings taken. 
  • Then read silently to themselves from a work of fiction for 5 minutes
  • They then took a second version of the EPQ. This approach isolated the difference reading fiction made to participants as they completed the  EPQ for the second time. 
  • The control group of (n.9) respondents followed the same process, except that instead of reading fiction, they were asked to complete a mundane task in between the two EPQs.

The Findings

We found that there is an important link between reading fiction and increased mental health, brain health and social connectedness. We were able to prove that just 5 minutes of reading can:

  •  Improve concentration and focus  
  • Significantly reduce stress by 20% 
  • Help people manage their stress and better cope with stressful situations.

Meeting the Queen… and Ken Follet 

The research findings were launched by Her Majesty Queen Camilla at a reception at Clarence House. Not your typical debrief! The evening event was attended by well-known figures such as Ken Follet, Donna Tartt and Helen Bonham Carter.

Want to find out more? Read about the full Queen’s Reading Room study.