Reading, A Dose of Medicine for the Mind and Body

Of course, we all know in theory that reading is good for us. Now, however, researchers are proving just how good it is and how much benefit may be derived for those bookworms out there. Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield explains that reading helps to lengthen attention spans and to improve a child’s ability to think clearly.

As she explains,

“Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end – a structure that encourages our brains to think in sequence, to link cause, effect and significance. It is essential to learn this skill as a small child, while the brain has more plasticity, which is why it’s so important for parents to read to their children. The more we do it, the better we get at it.’

As John Stein, emeritus professor of neuroscience at Magdalen College, Oxford, explains, “Reading exercises the whole brain.”

A study in 2009 found that reading actually helps us to create new neural pathways, as our brains process the experiences that we read about. This does not occur from watching television, playing computer games or engaging in other passive activities.

Another fascinating study from the University of Sussex in 2009 found that a mere six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by more than two-thirds. They found that this amount of reading was more beneficial than listening to music or going for a walk.

Finally, one more study, from the University of California, Berkeley, that was published in the Archives of Neurology, showed that reading from a young age can actually help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s. It inhibits the formation of amyloid (protein) plaques which are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The scientists who conducted this study found that people who had been doing brain-stimulating activities like reading, playing chess, writing letters and more since the age of six showed very low levels of amyloid plaques as they aged. For those who hadn’t engaged in such activities, the plaque levels were heightened.

Reading Just Might Change Your Behavior

Most of us agree that our children should read more, and that reading is good for them for many reasons. Now, there might just be a new reason to encourage them to pick up that book.  Researchers at Ohio State University, including co-author Lisa Libby, have found that people who get involved in their books may change their behavior to match the behavior of a favorite character. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

While the effects haven’t been tested in all areas as of yet, they have been tested on voting habits.  The researchers have coined the term “experience-taking” in relation to readers who take on the emotions, thoughts and beliefs of characters. In one experiment, for instance, they found that readers who strongly identified with a character who managed to vote despite many obstacles went on to vote in a real election just a few days later at a higher frequency than the regular average. 82 undergraduates were asked to read a one of four versions of a story about someone who overcame the odds to vote. They read it just a few days before the 2008 November presidential election.

The results showed that the students who read the story in first-person and about a student from their own university were more likely to have experience-taking. 65% of these participants then voted on Election Day. In contrast, only 29% of those who read the first-person story about someone from a different university went out to vote.

As co-author Libby explained,

“Experience-taking can be a powerful way to change our behavior and thoughts in meaningful and beneficial ways.”

Graduate student Geoff Kaufman, who led the study, explained that, “Experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own lives with those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes.”

 

The Pre-school Top Ten Reading List

It’s back to the wonderful world of classes, studying, research, and papers – vacation is definitely over. But, after spending such a great weekend with my adorable niece and nephew, my sister and I talked a lot about ideas for giving young children the best preparation for school – and life. In addition to being a mother, my sister is also an early childhood educator, so this is actually her field of expertise. One of the things we talked about was reading readiness. My sister has prepared a list of books she advises parents to read with their pre-school children, and I wanted to share it with the parents out there. So here is her top ten list:
1. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
2. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
3. Curious George by H.A. Rey
4. Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff
5. Harry and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
6. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber
7. Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
8. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
9. The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole
10. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

Happy Family Reading!