Obsessive readers like me instinctively feel that reading is good for us but what is the scientific evidence to back this up? Plenty, it seems…
In 2013, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia compared the brains of people after they read a novel compared to a period beforehand when they didn’t read. Using brain scans, they found that for several days after reading there were significant increases in activity in the areas of the brain associated with perspective taking and story comprehension. These are areas likely to make you more empathic towards others. The changes decreased rapidly in the days after reading stopped so the message is, you need to keep reading! Similarly, psychologists at the New School for Social in New York proved that reading literary fiction enhances the capacity to comprehend that other people’s beliefs may differ from one’s own and to understand an empathize with other people’s emotions. Unfortunately, they did not find the same effect with non-fiction or “popular” fiction.
Reading, specifically, reading fiction also has an impact on development of vocabulary. Based on two million completions of an online vocabulary survey, it was found that the most prolific readers of fiction have the highest number of words in their vocabulary.
Researchers at the University of Sussex found that reading reduces stress by up to 68% and was better at reducing stress than listening to music, having a cuppa or taking a walk. Moreover, only six minutes of silent reading was needed to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles. In fact, reading reduced stress levels in those taking part in the experiment to lower than before they started.
Finally a 2013 study by the American University of Neurology found that frequent cognitive activity throughout life is associated slower late-life cognitive decline. Reading is considered a complex cognitive process because it involves decoding symbols to derive meaning and requires creativity and critical analysis.
So you can get back to that book safe in the knowledge that you are engaged in a scientifically-proven beneficial activity.