Reading isn’t for everyone. But maybe reading should be universal because of all of the benefits it bestows. Statistics show that over 24 percent of American adults went through the past year without reading a single book.
There’s no doubt that reading is important but does reading make you smarter? Are those who take the time to flick through the pages of their favorite novel or nonfiction genre more intellectual?
Since there are different ways of interpreting what smarter is and is not, we are going to take a closer look at some of the studies. We will also find out if it has benefits for the brain in other ways as well.
How Does Reading Make You Smarter?
Let’s start with some of the statistics.
Firstly, let’s reiterate that it is hard to measure intelligence. People will talk about IQ as a way of scoring your intelligence, but with exams and tests, there can be many ways to judge a person’s intelligence.
Many things can influence your IQ, where you grew up, the school you went to and even your family. But let’s look and see if reading increases intelligence.
Anne E.Cunningham, a Professor at the University of Berkeley, produced the paper, What Reading Does For The Mind, and made some exciting discoveries.
The paper states that reading volume made a significant contribution to multiple measures of vocabulary, general knowledge, spelling, and verbal fluency. According to this study, reading makes you smarter overall.
It seems that reading and literacy link to intelligence because researchers found that a student who cannot read proficiently by the 3rd grade is four times more likely to drop out of school.
Reading Broadens Your Vocabulary
If you want to achieve anything in your studies, reading is essential, but it also benefits your vocabulary.
Because we are looking at the words and seeing how they fit into sentences, we experience a range of words that we would otherwise not come across in our everyday lives.
Your peer group might be made up of some of the more intelligent people you know, but a book can still offer you a new range of words that you do not get from your daily conversations.
A greater vocabulary benefits everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a writer, or work in an office, a bigger vocabulary helps you explain yourself better and express yourself in new ways. Want to impress your boss? Start using different words to get your point across.
Experts Link Reading To Fluid Intelligence
Fluid intelligence is how we approach and solve problems.
Psychologist Raymond Cattell developed the definition of fluid intelligence, and it is something that is present in everyone. Fluid intelligence involves problem-solving without any specific background knowledge in a subject.
The idea is that when you are set with a new task or set of circumstances and have to use fluid intelligence to resolve or complete a task.
Where does reading come into fluid intelligence? Experts think that those who read are better prepared for irregular situations and can break down new problems. Reading helps you increase fluid intelligence.
Fluid intelligence is mutually beneficial because it also helps you to make better sense of new words and sentence structures that you will come across when you read.
Reading and Emotional Intelligence
The journal Science published a study by psychologists Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd, which found that reading novels helped to increase emotional intelligence.
Psychologists conducted the study on a group of people between 18 and 75. The researchers split them into three groups, one that didn’t read anything, one that got nonfiction to read, and another that got excerpts of novels by Don DeLillo, Wendell Berry or Gillian Flynn to read.
After they had read, the participants took tests where they got measured on their ability to understand people and match the most relevant photo of a pair of eyes to a particular emotion.
The group that read excerpts from fiction were found to be better at reading people’s facial gestures.
This ability might be because reading profoundly describes emotions, using words to convey a feeling. Those who read have a wider reference point from which they can decode and understand a person’s face in the real world.
Still, it is also the gaps in between the words and sentences of fiction that encourage the brain to make sense of what they are reading. By filling in the gaps ourselves, it helps us to increase our emotional intelligence in the real world.
This phenomenon is all described as your Theory of Mind in the paper by Kidd and Castanos. It increases our levels of emotional intelligence and gives us a chance to practice empathy subconsciously.
So reading not only makes you smarter but can make you a better person. If you can read people’s emotions it means you may be able to offer them help should they need it.
Does Reading Make You Smarter? It Benefits Memory
Anything that stimulates your brain helps keep it in a healthy state.
Keeping the brain healthy is essential for increasing memory capacity. Reading has been found to stave off cognitive decline in a way that maintains your memory and stops you from suffering from mental illnesses.
Research from North Central University has found that reading can slow down mental decline including that of memory function.
There are also people who believe that reading can help you live longer because of what it can do for your mental health and wellbeing.
Think about it, when you are reading a book you have to remember a lot of information such as character names, where they are from, the challenges they have faced. You might be reading a mystery novel that continually has you trying to decipher information or work out when a twist is coming.
It helps to increase the health of your brain pathways which in turn boosts memory function.
Anything that can train your brain and keep you memorizing events can help you in your day-to-day experiences.
Reading Keeps You Focused
We live in the golden age of distractions.
Everywhere you turn you see advertising that is trying to influence your brain and convince you that their product is worth buying. There isn’t a time where you are away from such a situation, scrolling through social media is a minefield of distractions.
When you feel like you are losing focus, whether it be at work or home, reading has been proven to help you to maintain a level of concentration.
If you can grab a book and pick up from where you left it, then you will find it helps refocus your mind.
If life is stressful and you find that the anxiety is stopping you from completing even routine tasks, then reading for just six minutes relieves stress by 68 percent.
Reading and Brain Connectivity
Reading is believed to strengthen brain connectivity.
Emory University conducted a study in 2013 that found that reading a novel can leave a lasting effect on the brain.
Students were given Robert Harris’ book “Pompeii” to read, after which they underwent MRI scans during a resting state. One of the significant findings was the positive effect it had on the area of the brain that processes physical feelings.
This study shows how reading can help your brain connect with the rest of your body and help you feel more.
The study also found that participants had a heightened receptivity to language.
Reading Enhances Your Writing Skills
Think of it like this, the more exposure you get to written language, the better your own is.
If you are a writer, whether it is a blogger or you regularly have to use writing skills at work, then you should read works by the industry’s best. Reading helps you improve your technique and skills.
The two things that many people consider beneficial for writing are more writing and reading. Reading can open up new directions for your writing as well as help you understand different genres better.
The fact is, if you want to be a better writer, you need to have solid foundations, which means reading what the most coveted authors have written.
Does reading make you smarter? It makes you a smarter writer that’s for sure.
Reading Helps You Study
Whether you are a student or have a work-related examination you need to ace for the qualification you are after, reading is essential.
To gain the knowledge you need to pass exams, a little bit of studying might get you by. However, going in depth and trying to understand what the text is telling you will help you get higher grades and better results.
The more you read in general, the easier it will be to commit the right amount of hours to revision. If you want the right level of knowledge in a subject, you need to read more.
Reading Makes Your Brain Stronger
If you want to have a stronger body, you need to train regularly.
It’s the same deal for your brain. An active brain is healthy and strong. Studies have shown that those who read more are less likely to suffer from mental illnesses like Alzheimer’s.
Reading helps you maintain a smarter brain for longer, and reading links to many of the above factors such as short- and long-term memory.
Regular reading helps to keep your mind sharp, and according to The Huffington Post, it can lower the rate of mental decline by 32 percent.
The article also comments on the fact that a study found people with infrequent mental activity had a mental decline that was 48 percent faster.
Best Way To Read
Although it is tempting and convenient to download a book onto your device, it is not necessarily the most beneficial.
Studies have shown that it takes longer to read e-books, which can cause some people to stop reading altogether.
Other studies have found that reading books rather than ebooks helps you to absorb the information and remember it.
Reading physical books requires the physical turning of pages, and you hold the weight of the book in your hands. Authorities think people remember where in a book the information appeared, making it easier to recall later.
It might not be the most convenient if you are packing for a long trip, but it seems that you cannot replace the traditional book when it comes to absorbing information.
Of course there are other ways like audiobooks that gives us the information but technically does not count as reading. Audiobooks do make us smarter as well and is a form of learning that can benefit us a lot.
Reading serves many purposes and is best enjoyed as a pleasurable pastime.
The above should act as some of the many bonuses that come with reading, and if you enjoy a good book, then they will be precisely that, a bonus.
For many people, it can seem like a chore, and they often associate reading with something you had to do at school.
The reality is, reading helps you to increase your vocabulary, which can help your career. The fact that it can also increase empathy makes it a valuable practice in everyday life.
Now that you understand how reading makes you smarter, it should encourage you to invest more time to do so. The short-term benefits are excellent, but the fact that reading can keep the likes of Alzheimer’s away in the long term make it a valuable habit to maintain.