This is an essay by Anita Dualeh.
Reading is good for the brain. Though this would probably never be one’s primary reason for reading, it is an interesting byproduct of being an avid reader. The cognitive benefits of reading may also suggest some compelling reasons why we might want to help others – either children or struggling adults – to advance in their reading skills. (Kudos to all the reading mentors out there.)
The following findings are from an article published in the Journal of Direct Reading Instruction in which a professor of education and a professor of psychology examine empirical evidence about the contribution of independent reading to one’s general knowledge, reading ability and verbal intelligence. Though key findings in the article included both the impact of reading on children and adults, this blog post focuses on findings from studies with adults.
Growth in Verbal Skills
One benefit of reading a lot is a well-developed vocabulary. Most people acquire vocabulary through exposure rather than explicit instruction. We learn new words by seeing them or hearing them used in context. Since oral language lacks the richness of written material, most vocabulary is acquired through reading. Reading material typically contains words that are two to three times more rare than words used in conversation or TV. Additionally, print material provides about three times as many opportunities to encounter new words than oral language does. Results from a study with college students suggest that reading also makes a significant contribution to verbal fluency, spelling and general knowledge, even after factoring out the contribution of reading ability and general intelligence.
Reading volume is associated with higher scores on general knowledge tests, while television watching is associated with lower scores. In a study involving 268 college students, avid readers scored higher on five different measures of general/practical knowledge. Respondents also demonstrated that familiarity with prime time television material tended to be negatively associated with possessing accurate information about the world. Researchers concluded that the “cognitive anatomy of misinformation” is the result of too little reading (though they did note that watching public television programs, news and documentary could have similar positive effects on world knowledge as reading would.)
Arrested Cognitive Decline
One study compared the performance of college students and senior citizens on working memory, general knowledge, vocabulary and syllogistic reasoning. Participants also completed several measures of reading volume. College students outperformed older participants on working memory and reasoning tasks, whereas they did not do as well as the older participants on vocabulary and general knowledge tasks. The positive relationships between age and vocabulary and age and general knowledge in senior citizens were shown to be correlated with reading volume. These results suggest that reading helps compensate for the natural cognitive decline associated with aging.
Though an early start in reading is an important predictor of lifelong reading habits, readers of all ability levels should be encouraged by learning that reading yields significant dividends for everyone.
So, how do we help more people become avid readers?
What Reading Does for the Mind
Anita Dualeh is a freelance education writer who creates everything from test items to web content. She blogs at www.1stteacher.wordpress.com.