Spending a lazy afternoon with a good book has become an increasingly antiquated pastime. We all have so many entertainment options at our fingertips at any given moment, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that reading rates are down – especially among young people.
So, it may not be shocking, but it’s still a shame. As engrossing as a Netflix binge can be, there’s no substitute for reading. It takes a bit more mental energy, but it’s also more rewarding. The benefits of reading are well-documented, and now a new study finds you don’t have to dust off your old history or chemistry textbook to reap the rewards of reading.
Researchers from Concordia University report that the more an individual reads works of fiction, the stronger their language skills. Importantly, study authors clarify that it doesn’t matter what type of fiction you read. From classic authors like Dostoevsky and Joyce to more contemporary “pulp” fiction like James Patterson’s work, all that matters is that you’re making a conscious choice to read leisurely.
Imagine seeing two people reading on the subway. One is flipping through a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, while the other is reading Voltaire’s Candide. At first, most would probably assume the person reading Candide, a satirical novella written in 1759, has stronger language skills. This work, however, suggests, Harry Potter fans the world over have nothing to be ashamed of.
Moreover, this research found that people who regularly read fiction solely for pleasure or leisure usually score higher on language assessments than those who read to “access specific information.” Perhaps textbooks and encyclopedias the world over should be replaced with copies of The Great Gatsby and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
These findings indicate that in many instances why you’re reading can be just as beneficial as what you’re reading. You might learn more cold hard facts from a textbook, but an engaging work of fiction that draws you into its world may impart more language skills and verbal abilities at the end of the day.
A major aspect of why so few young people read nowadays is the perception of it as an academic chore. Study authors say these findings should be used to help change younger generations’ perceptions toward reading. A book doesn’t have to be boring, education-centric, or nonfiction to offer cognitive upsides.
“It’s always very positive and heartening to give people permission to delve into the series that they like,” says study co-author Sandra Martin-Chang, professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science at Concordia. “I liken it to research that says chocolate is good for you: the guilty pleasure of reading fiction is associated with positive cognitive benefits and verbal outcomes.”
These findings were reached thanks to 200 participating UK undergraduate students. First, a scale was used to assess and quantify each student’s readings habits (motivations, interests, attitudes, etc). Then, each student’s score was cross-referenced against their performance in a language skills assessment. This allowed study authors to determine to what extent recreational reading habits influence subsequent language skills.
Finally, subjects were also given another test that asked them to choose the names of real fiction and non-fiction authors from a bank of both real and fabricated author names. High scores on this test correlated with both reported reading habits and verbal skills scores. In other words, students who recognized more real authors read more and had better verbal abilities than their peers.
“This ingrained interest, wanting to read something over and over again, feeling compelled to read an entire series, feeling connected to characters and authors, these are all good things,” Martin-Chang concludes.
Reading can be a chore, but it doesn’t have to be. Seek out the topics and novels that interest you, and you just may wake up one day and find you’ve turned into an avid bibliophile.
The full study can be found here, published in the scientific journal Reading and Writing.