We live in an age where we can spend hours bingeing on TV box sets or surfing social media. But despite these distractions, there’s still a huge market for novels and reading remains a popular pastime.
So, we know that reading is good for us as it improves our literacy, but what other benefits does it offer?
- Stress Reduction : Just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%.
- Better Emotional Intelligence : As we read more, studies have shown that we begin to understand a range of perspectives and motivations which can increase our emotional intelligence.
- Improved Memory : Reading requires you to have to remember an assortment of characters, backgrounds as well as the various arcs and sub-plots that weave their way through every story. Every new memory you create forges new synapses (brain pathways) and strengthens existing ones, which assists in short-term memory recall as well as stabilizing moods.
- Delaying the onset of Dementia : There is some evidence that mental stimulation is one of the factors that can delay the onset of dementia and reading is among the activities that can help to keep the brain active. When we read we create mental simulations of the activities, sights and sounds of scenes in a story, blending these with our own memories and experiences, all of which stimulates the neural pathways. One study even found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers.
- Improved Focus & Concentration : In our internet-crazed world, attention is drawn in a million different directions at once as we multi-task through every day. However when you read a book, all of your attention is focused on the story and the rest of the world just falls away as you can immerse yourself in every fine detail you’re absorbing. Try reading for 15-20 minutes before work on your morning commute and you’ll be surprised at how much more focused you are once you get to the office.
- Improved Vocabulary and Writing Skills : Exposure to published, well-written work has a noted effect on one’s own writing as the writing styles of other authors will invariably influence your own work.
- Improved well being : Reading for pleasure has been found to improve confidence and self-esteem. It can also aid our sleep and reduce feelings of loneliness.
Real Book Vs e-Book
The debate between paper books and e-readers has been at times somewhat vicious, ever since the first Kindle came out in 2007. Most arguments have been about the sentimental versus the practical, between people who prefer how paper pages feel in their hands and people who argue for the practicality of e-readers. However, now science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books.
science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books.
A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Researchers at Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that
“the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”
Our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page.
The tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page. The researchers hypothesizes that the difference for Kindle readers
“might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”
the inability to flip back to previous pages… making written notes or bending pages… reduces long-term memory of the text.
While e-readers try to recreate the sensation of turning pages and pagination, the screen is limited to one ephemeral virtual page. Surveys about the use of e-readers also found that this affects a reader’s sense of control. The inability to flip back to previous pages or control the text physically, either through making written notes or bending pages, limits one’s sensory experience and thus reduces long-term memory of the text.
Slow-reading advocates recommend at least 30 to 45 minutes of daily reading away from the distractions of modern technology. By doing so, the brain can reengage with linear reading. The benefits of making slow reading a regular habit are numerous, reducing stress and improving your ability to concentrate.
Reading an old-fashioned novel is also linked to improving sleep. When many of us spend our days in front of screens, it can be hard to signal to our body that it’s time to sleep. By reading a paper book about an hour before bed, your brain enters a new zone, distinct from that enacted by reading on an e-reader.
So in conclusion: slow down; chill out; sit down and read a good (paper) book.