Reading is pretty cool. It can provide us with an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday lives. It can also educate us and teach us new experiences. But, there are many studies which show avid readers can develop their personalities – some would say into superpowers!
What are the benefits of being an avid reader? Can regular reading really improve your brain power and personality?
Superpower 1 – avid readers are likely to be less stressed
Ironically, it is probably the fast-paced, stressful environment we all seem to live in these days, which prevents us from being avid readers. However, there are scientific studies that link reading to a less stressful life.
No one can argue that losing yourself in a great story or engaging magazine article can transport you into another realm. Neuroscientists have discovered that distraction can help keep you in the present moment and lets tension drain away, allowing you to relax.
A study into the rise of e-reading revealed its participants used reading as a lifestyle choice, specifically to unplug from a constant stream of information. Some also said they took on the pleasure of living through another character.
Superpower 2 – regular reading can give you more knowledge
This escapism has additional benefits for avid readers. In a study by Emory University in the journal Brain Connectivity, researchers found that becoming engrossed in a novel also improves brain function.
Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information – and you never know when that might come in handy! The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you will be at handling challenging situations.
Furthermore, a study called “Pew Internet and American Life Project” by the Pew Research Center in 2012 revealed those who like to read, particularly fiction, are driven by personal enrichment. They reported a love for being exposed to ideas and experience different places. Other avid readers viewed literary texts as a stimulant for the brain, whilst relaxing at the same time.
Superpower 3 – you will use more words (spoken and written)
Here, we see where avid readers acquire another superpower. According to neuroscientists, changes caused by reading a novel are registered in the left temporal cortex. This is the area of the brain used for language reception.
So it is likely that avid readers can also increase the number of words they use in daily language, both in spoken and written words. Neurons in this same area of the brain have also been associated with tricking the mind into a phenomenon called embodied cognition. According to neuroscientist, Professor Gregory Berns, “the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes improves theory of mind.”
Not only can reading fiction books expose us to the vocabulary of authors and characters, but of course, reading is a vital resource for learning. Avid readers of non-fiction books can access new languages, as well as exposure to words used in context, which will improve their own speaking and writing fluency.
Superpower 4 – you will have improved memory
This access to new information grants avid readers a new superpower – that of improved memory. When you read, you have to store lots of information: characters, situations, theories, backgrounds histories etc. Every new memory you create forges new brain pathways and strengthens existing ones. This aids short-term memory recall – and stabilising moods.
So, avid readers may find themselves with improved memory, even where there is a lot of information to remember. This is because, luckily, our brains are already equipped for this intake of new information.
Language Scientist, Ken Pugh Ph.D., said that your brain is just like a muscle. Not only does it have memory, but it also benefits from a good work out. Parts of the brain have evolved for specific functions such as vision, language and learning. These connect in a “specific neural circuit for reading” says Pugh.
Superpower 5 – It can improve focus and concentration
Pugh added that with this inward flow of information to the brain, it automatically calls for greater concentration.
There was a study on this called the Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf. She concluded that when you read, you have time to think and, therefore, you have more time to process information. All the while, your focus and concentration are improved because your brain is working twice as hard to comprehend and engage with the text, as well as absorb the information.
This is still true, even in the age of the internet where attention spans are squeezed and shorter reading is at its peak. The danger is that in multitasking between checking emails, working on a task and chatting on the phone all at the same time, we could lower our productivity. However, reading, whether digitally or printed, sees all attention focused momentarily on the story.
So, if you aren’t an avid reader already, you might seriously want to consider it. You could develop these superpowers for yourself and it doesn’t take much time. All you need is a 15-20 minute window, perhaps on the train commute – you might just be surprised at how the benefits of reading can impact your personality and improve your brain.