Who doesn’t like curling up on the couch with a good book on a lazy Sunday, determined to finish it in a single seating? Well, the answer is: not many! Reading isn’t for everyone. In fact, statistics show that over 24% of American adults didn’t read a single book throughout the past year.
Some claim that reading should be “universal” because of the many benefits it bestows, but is it true that reading makes you smarter? Is it true that those of us who take the time to flick through the pages of our favorite books are smarter than those who don’t? What is the scientific explanation to back this up?
Does Reading Make You Smart?
First things first, let’s get this straightened out: there’s no one way to determine how smart a person is. People talk about IQ being a way of scoring one’s intelligence, but there are so many other factors involved to judge a person’s intelligence.
In fact, there are also many factors that influence a person’s IQ, such as where they grew up, where they went to school, the kind of household environment they grew up in, and so on.
Since there are multiple ways of finding out how to measure a person’s intellect, let’s take a look at some of the studies and benefits reading has for the brain.
Studies That Suggest Reading Makes You Smarter
The benefits of reading are plenty, which makes for a strong case in today’s digitalized, smartphone age that brings along with it all kinds of distractions.
Statistics show that one-quarter of American children today don’t know (or learn) how to read. Not only does this affect them intellectually and socially, but cognitively challenges them for life.
An elaborate study back in 2009 involved 72 children aged between 8-10 to find out the effects of reading. They found out that reading created new white matter in their brains.
This white matter is capable of storing important information between regions of grey matter and in effect, helps improve system-wide communication. By increasing the white matter in their brains, they were able to store and process information more efficiently.
An intrigued professor at the University of Berkeley, Anne E. Cunningham wrote a paper, What Reading Does for the Mind, where she made some very interesting discoveries. She proposed that reading not only helps improve your vocabulary, general knowledge, verbal fluency, and spelling, but makes you smarter.
The reason why most researchers link reading and literacy with intelligence is because studies suggest that a student who is incapable of reading proficiently by the 2nd grade is four times more likely to drop out of school.
Reading Improves Fluid Intelligence
Many experts are now linking reading to fluid intelligence. This kind of intelligence is how one approaches and solves certain problems.
Renowned psychologist, Raymond Cattell said that fluid intelligence is present in all individuals. It involves the process of problem solving without background knowledge of the subject.
When an individual is exposed to a set of new tasks, they use their fluid intelligence to find solutions or complete them.
Experts believe that reading helps one prepare better to deal with irregular and unexpected situations. They are also more susceptible to breaking down new problems in a more efficient manner.
In effect, reading increases fluid intelligence. Reading improves one’s vocabulary, which helps make better sense of new words and sentence structures. This is another way a person’s fluid intelligence is impacted positively by reading.
Reading Keeps the Brain Healthy
Anything that stimulates your brain helps maintain its healthy state. This does not mean that people who don’t read do not have healthy brains.
However, it is a fact that reading benefits memory. Memory capacity plays a crucial role in keeping the brain in a healthy state. It has been deduced from various studies that reading fends off cognitive decline! This helps maintain memory power and can reduce your chances of developing mental illnesses.
There are people who believe that people who read live longer than people who don’t. Even though there is no scientific evidence to back this up, it is true that people who read have more stable mental health. Essentially, anything that can train your brain will help you develop memory power and in effect, your wellbeing.
According to The Huffington Post, reading regularly helps reduce the rate of mental decline in human beings by 32%. The article further went on to suggest that people who didn’t read often had infrequent mental activity and showed a mental decline almost 48% faster than others.
Reading Widens Your Vocabulary
One of the main reasons people develop reading habits is to learn new words. Coming across new words in books and seeing how they fit into sentences is a great way to improve your vocabulary.
Your friends circle may or may not have intelligent people that use new words, but a book offers a new range of words that you’re not guaranteed in your day to day conversations.
Whether you’re a writer or not, a great vocabulary benefits everyone. It helps you explain yourself more proficiently and express yourself in various new ways. Pro tip: If you want to impress your boss, try incorporating new words into your sentences. It not only helps you improve your technique and skills, but makes you more confident about your speech.
People who stutter often or shy away from social gatherings could also benefit from reading. You’d be surprised the boost of confidence a good vocabulary could give you. Besides, once you start reading impressive GRE-level words many times, you’ll start incorporating it into your vocabulary.
Reading Enhances your Writing Skills
If you are an aspiring writer, then reading is recommended; oftentimes, it is considered a pre-requisite, almost. Think of it in this way: being exposed to written language only improves your own. Whether you’re a blogger, novelist, journalist, or just have to use your writing skills constantly, then reading is recommended.
Reading has proven to understand concepts and grasp genres easier to many (especially writers). In fact, some writers have stated that when they experience writer’s block, reading a novel of the same genre helps them.
It not only opens up different avenues for them, but helps them take a deeper dive into the genre, and therefore, improve their writing.
If you want to become a better writer, you must have solid foundations in writing, which is often paved by good reading skills. Also, most writers make sure to read what renowned authors have written (including classics) and start after that. So, does reading make you smart? One thing is for sure, it definitely makes you a smarter writer!
Reading Helps you Stay Focused
In the golden era of distractions, it is hard to focus on just one thing. Take social media, for instance. You open up your Instagram account and have a flood of images in front of you.
The advertisements on the page is distraction enough to make you click on other links and consider buying apparel or furniture. So even though you opened your Instagram account to check out your friends’ profiles, you ended up buying a cute top off E-bay! There’s no doubt that social media is a minefield of distractions. How does one get out of this?
It is said that when people feel like they’re losing focus, reading has always proven effective to help maintain the level of concentration. Whether this is at work or home, whether you’re studying for a test or just going through your checklist of to-dos, reading helps develop this level of focus.
When you grab your book and turn over to the page earmarked, can you recollect everything you’d read before that? Can you pick up from where you left and still keep up? Try this little exercise the next time you read a book; this helps you refocus your mind and is often a quality picked up by avid readers.
An interesting statistic suggests that people suffering from anxiety and stress in their daily lives can be relieved by 68% just by reading for 6 minutes a day!
Reading Improves Human Interaction
Novels have powerful effects on its readers. Most of them are responsible for simulating reality for the readers, off-page. This presents an opportunity to understand the author’s perspective in different ways. Studies show that this simulation has had thoughtful implications on how we interact with other humans.
For instance, if you saw a teenager act out or a child misbehaving, you might go back to stories that involved characters resembling the same characteristics, and would display a more nuanced understanding of their reactions. In effect, this would help you react in an improved and enhanced manner towards their behaviors.
Reading Enhances Emotional Intelligence
Two psychologists, Emanuele Castano and David Comer were curious about the effects reading had on emotional intelligence. They performed a study on a group of people between the ages 18 and 75.
They were split into three groups: one that didn’t read anything, one that read only thrillers (books by Gillian Flynn and Wendell Berry), and one that only read non-fiction. They were then exposed to a few experiments to find out how they’d react.
The group that read only thrillers and excerpts from fiction were found to be better than the lot at reading people’s facial expressions. It was deduced that this result was because most fiction and thriller books describe emotions thoroughly, using many words to convey a single feeling.
Therefore, those who read them had a broader frame of reference, helping them understand a person’s expressions and feelings outside the world of fiction.
This, in turn, increased their emotional intelligence in the real world and gave them the opportunity to practice empathy on a subconscious level. So, they concluded that reading not only makes one smarter, but essentially, a better person as well.
Are E-Books Better Than Physical Books?
Now that we know reading is essential, let’s talk about the various means of reading a book today. The digital age has its many perks, one of which is that there are free e-books available online, easily downloadable onto your devices. But just how beneficial is it to read books online? Is a physical book better than e-books?
Studies show that reading e-books usually take much longer than a physical book. In fact, some people stop reading books mid-way for this very reason. Other studies suggest that reading physical books actually help you absorb information and retain it.
Since physical books requires physically turning pages and holding the weight of the book in your hands, it is believed that people remember where in the book the information appeared. This helped them recall facts and characters easier.
Even if not-so-convenient when packing for long trips, physical books have more benefits than e-books. An audiobook is yet another way to retain information, even if it doesn’t count as reading.
It is still a solid form of learning and has its benefits. People who complain about the length of books should consider reading book summaries. This is a shorter version of the book that captures the essence and the important elements.
As evidenced by the benefits listed above, reading is not only a pleasurable pastime, but helps individuals in many ways. To answer the first question addressed in this article, reading does in fact make one smarter, but that’s not it.
It also has many other benefits, such as improving focusing capabilities, memory power, fluid intelligence, human interaction, emotional intelligence, and the overall health of your brain.
Now that you’ve found out all the interesting benefits reading provides you with, encourage yourself to invest more time to read. Even if you have a hectic schedule, take out a few minutes every day just to read short articles, book summaries, or if you have the patience, books. The fact that it has long-term benefits, such as keeping the likes of Alzheimer’s disease away makes it an appreciated habit to inculcate.