The Benefits of Reading: Part III

Check out Part II here.

11. Reading Enhances Brain Function

Reading can put us in other people’s shoes but they can also put us in other people’s bodies. “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” says neuroscientist Gregory Berns, who led a study at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) in 2013, for which 21 students came together to read the same thriller—Pompeii (2003) by Robert Harris. It emerged that the heightened connectivity in the brain occasioned by the strong narrative persisted in a way similar to muscle memory. What’s more, the experience boosted the brain’s overall function for days after the students had finished reading the novel.

12. Reading Can Combat Depression

Depression—the antithesis of vitality—is a elusive multi-faceted monster that has different causes and different cures for different people. Some overcome it through counselling, others need a strict regimen of chemicals. For some, St. John’s Wort could do wonders, others may find solace in grooming sessions. Reading is yet another, significantly effective, way through which those who suffer from melancholia may attain a level of peace and a more active will.

In 2015, The Independent reports, the UK charity The Reading Agency, whose mission is to inspire people to read more, conducted a large-scale study to evaluate the impact of the work it carries out. This initiative, which looked for the benefits of reading for pleasure and took into account several research projects, found that recreational reading can lead to stronger feelings of relaxation (more than television watching and participation in technology intensive activities), reduced levels of depression, better sleeping patterns and even greater self-esteem.

13. Reading Might Help You Live Longer

A 2016 study published in the Social Science & Medicine journal, the Guardian reports, looked at the reading patterns of 3,635 people who were 50 or older. Book readers were found to live for almost two years longer than non-readers. The paper, titled “A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading With Longevity”, is authored by academics Avni Bavishi, Martin Slade and Becca Levy from the Yale University School of Public Health. The cognitive processes involved in reading books could create a survival advantage, the study states. Bavishi adds: “We had seen some mixed effects in previous literature that seemed to indicate that there may be a survival advantage to general reading; however, we were impressed with the magnitude of the difference of effect between reading books and reading newspapers/magazines.”


“The cognitive processes involved in reading books could create a survival advantage…”


14. Reading Stimulates the Imagination

Good, evil, courage, sacrifice, heroism, guilt, joy, justice, injustice, tragedy, duty, utility, survival, destiny, equality, inequality, persistence, chance, luck, order, chaos, commitment, betrayal, hate, pain, pleasure, crime, punishment, love, death, life, violence, peace—to children and young people, many of these concepts may appear abstract, often tricky, if explained philosophically. But they can come alive when embodied within a story. Myths, legends, epics, fairytales and folklore that have stood the test of time and space especially illustrate truths about the human condition, culture and nature through accessible archetypes (example, the motif of the catastrophic flood, the dying and rising god, a brilliant and beautiful figure falling from grace in pride and lust for power, the symbolic masculine and feminine, the dragon, the unicorn). Complex ideas, carefully embedded within a fantastic or realist narrative, become more comprehensible to the reader and allow him/her to think creatively about the issues in question.

There is another, more general way in which reading stimulates the imagination—simply by not providing moving pictures to the reader, and thereby, compelling him/her to conceive the same for himself/herself.

15. Reading Creates a Culture of Dialogue and Friendship

When a person devotes considerable chunks of his/her life to reading, they put into it the time and energy that could have been spent elsewhere, including in destructive pursuits. Now imagine if the elites of a certain country began reading more and more books from the land of a perceived enemy. Instead of channelling their aggressions and insecurities into impulsive and pointless warfare, they could use their mental resources to acquire practical information about “the other”, which could lead to fruitful debates. Books cast a spell on us, keep us engaged and finally, leave us with fewer moments to waste. They fill us with a sense of meaning and curiosity that excites us, that we want to urgently share and discuss with those near and far. More people reading more books only means a greater culture of dialogue and discourse in lieu of what could easily have been an arena of mindless conflict and noise.


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Posted on May 26, 2018 in Literacy Consultancy

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