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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Six Research-Proven Reasons to Read Fiction Every Day


(Watterson, n.d.)

This old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is a humorous way to show that reading has its benefits. There are two types of people: readers and nonreaders. A smaller group of people is readers that read daily; an even smaller group is people that read fiction every day. It is crucial that people read fiction every day from birth through death because it has significant positive effects in the short term—stress reduction, relaxation and better sleep, and entertainment—and in the long term—more empathy, increased intelligence, and reduced chance of developing Alzheimer’s.



I have always been a reader. I love to read, and if I had it my way, I would have time to read several hours every day. At the very least, I read for about fifteen minutes before bed. However, I am not the perfect reader. There are some days that I would rather curl up on the couch and watch some trashy television. There are some days that I am so tired that I fall asleep before I can even get through a sentence in my book. However, research proves that reading every day has many positive impacts, so we all need to make a bigger effort to find some amazing books and get reading. Don’t worry, if you need some suggestions of some great books, check out the winners of my Best Book Award


(Lysander, 2014)
Most people understand and accept that children need to read every day, but many adults need to be motivated somehow to read daily. One of the biggest reasons to do so is that the amount of literacy a person has can impact their overall life. To prove this, National Literacy Trust try to help increase our nation’s literacy rates since even adults can improve their literacy, and, therefore, improve their lives (Dugdale & Clark, 2008). They built a profile of someone who is literate versus someone who has poor literacy.

For instance, they state that someone with poor literacy is: 
"more likely to live in a non-working household,… 
less likely to have children,… 
more likely to live in overcrowded housing,…
[and] less likely to vote" 
        (Dugdale & Clark, 2008). 

On the other hand, someone who improves their literacy is: 
"less likely to be on state benefits,…
more likely to own their own home,…
more likely to use a PC at work,…
[and] more involved in democratic processes" 
        (Dugdale & Clark, 2008). 

This supports the argument for an overall literate nation. The best way to improve literacy is to read more. 


Here are six of the top reasons to crack open a book:


1. Stress Reduction

Reading has a lot of effects on people in the short-term. Most importantly, it helps reduce stress levels. An infographic above reveals that “just 6 minutes of reading can reduce stress by 60%” (Lysander, 2014), which is a higher percent than the amount of stress reduced by listening to music, drinking tea, going for a walk, and playing video games (Lysander, 2014). In a country where most people feel stress at some point or another, having successful stress reducing strategies is very important to living a well-balanced life. 

2. Relaxation and Better Sleep

Because reading reduces stress levels, it also helps people relax and have a better night of sleep. Reading helps to slow heart rates and relieve tense muscles, both of which are signs of relaxation (Lysander, 2014). Also, creating a bedtime routine, which could and should include reading, tells your internal clock that it is time to go to sleep; as long as it is an actual book, not a lit screen (Wise, n.d.). This supports the argument for a hard copy book over an e-book, but that is a different argument. The most important thing is that people are reading every day, no matter what medium they use.

3. Entertainment 

One of the other benefits of reading daily in the short-term is that it provides entertainment. Most towns have public libraries, so books are one of the few forms of entertainment that still can be free. Books can help people vicariously experience events and places that they may never have a chance to do themselves in real life. Books are also a form of entertainment that can be taken anywhere and do not rely on electricity. Books also take a lot longer to read than a movie and typically cost less too. 

4. More Empathy

One of the long-term benefits of reading daily is an increase in a person's empathy. A study by Bal and Veltkamp proves that for this to be possible, the reader has to be engrossed and invested in the story, otherwise, the reader may actually experience a decrease in empathy. The study also concludes that fiction creates more empathy, where reading non-fiction does not (Bal & Veltkamp, 2012). This is all because "when a reader is not able to identify with a text and does not become transported, this might lead to disengagement…When readers disengage from what they read, they possibly become more self-centered and selfish in order to protect the sense of self in relation to others" (Bal & Veltkamp, 2012). On the other hand, when a person does become engrossed in the story, he/she is allowing him/herself to connect with the characters and see the world through their eyes. This allows the reader to make decisions and problem-solve with the characters as it is occurring, which requires the reader to predict the emotions and thoughts of the characters, therefore sympathizing with them. These thought processes will help the reader apply these feelings and emotions to future events in their own life, which is increasing their overall empathy (Bal & Veltkamp, 2012).  

This study does acknowledge that empathetic people may read more fiction than someone who is not empathetic, versus someone becoming more empathetic because they read fiction. Many people picture readers as anti-social and unable or unwilling to communicate and relate to other people. Therefore, there can be an argument that reading makes a person less empathetic, which can be true. However, picking a book that is in a genre that is interesting and engaging to the reader will allow the reader to be engrossed in the story and reap the benefits. This proves that not only do people need to read every day, but they need to read fiction every day. 

5. Increased Intelligence

One of the other long-term effects of reading daily is that reading a novel can create long-term changes in the biology of a person's brain, which consequently can help increase intelligence. The authors of a study on the brain state, "It seems plausible that if something as simple as a book can leave the impression that one's life has been changed, then perhaps it is powerful enough to cause changes in brain function and structure" (Berns, Blaine, Prietula, & Pye, 2013). This study proves that reading--even fiction--creates changes in the brain of adults, not just children. Many people understand the importance of reading in children: literacy, knowledge, development, and many other benefits. However, many people still do not realize the importance of reading into adulthood. In the study, they monitored 19 participants over 17 days using an fMRI. The middle nine days of scans were conducted the morning after they read a portion of a preselected novel. They chose a novel because, "the length and depth of the novel would afford a set of repeated engagements with associated, unique stimuli (sections of the novel) set in a broadened, controlled stimulus context that could be consumed through several scanning periods" (Berns, Blaine, Prietula, & Pye, 2013). In other words, the long novel would allow the participants to engage with the same story over the course of the entire study. This is important to note because the amount of connectivity within the brain was positively correlated with the rise and fall in the plot of the novel, with the highest being in the climax (Berns, Blaine, Prietula, & Pye, 2013). The brain connectivity also continued to rise even after the story ended, but eventually dropped back down, which suggests long-term impacts of reading novels (Berns, Blaine, Prietula, & Pye, 2013). It could be assumed that if someone were to continuously read novels every day, those levels would stay high and never have a chance to dip back down; perhaps they would continue to increase even higher. 

The reason why novels have this effect on the brain is because reading interacts with the part of the brain that is "associated with perspective taking and story comprehension…and bodily sensations…It is plausible that the act of reading a novel places the reader in the body of the protagonist, which may alter somatosensory and motor cortex connectivity" (Berns, Blaine, Prietula, & Pye, 2013). This means that the reader's brain is living vicariously through the actions of the main character. 

6. Reduced Chance of Developing Alzheimer’s

A related long-term effect of reading daily is the reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. A longitudinal study of 294 elderly participants proves that people who read throughout their lives have slower memory loss. While they were alive, the participants rated the amount of activities that they were doing that stimulated their brains in their early life and in the present time. After they died, they underwent a full brain autopsy (Wilson, et al., 2013). This particular study proved that “higher levels of cognitive activity in childhood, middle age, and old age were associated with slower rate of cognitive decline” (Wilson, et al., 2013). It is important for people to continue to participate in cognitive activities, such as reading, from birth through death. They cannot stop once they are out of formal schooling. Many adults do not read because they do not have time, but they should make time to read, the same way that they should make time to work out. 



Confirmation:


To confirm the validity of the earlier research, I created a SurveyMonkey survey and posted it on my Facebook. The goal was to get a large number of both readers and nonreaders. The questions asked were based on the existing research on the effects of reading. Questions were asked that helped to compare the amount of time spent reading to several other factors, such as overall happiness, stress levels, educational experiences (how well did they perform in school), and their attitude about education and learning. The 100 respondents confirmed that many people are not reading daily. Ninety-two percent of people that said they enjoy reading, but only fifty people read daily, and another thirty-one only read a few times a week. So if not even all of the people that enjoy reading are reading daily, then it proves that most people need to be convinced that reading is important. The biggest reason given for not reading daily is the lack of time. This is also a big excuse for people who do not exercise daily. Reading, just like exercising, needs to be made into a priority. Also, 98% of the respondents agreed that reading daily is important for children, and 92% think that reading is important for adults and the elderly. So the general public enjoys reading and sees the importance, but yet they still are not making time for it. 95% of people agree that reading is good for mental health, whereas only 41% think that reading has an effect on physical health, but they most likely are not making the connection between stress levels and physical health.




Everyone needs to make time to read and create it as a daily routine. This can be a quick fifteen minutes a day: while drinking coffee in the morning, on a lunch break, or at bedtime. Whatever time it’s done, reading needs to be made into a priority for everyone at every age. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions? Then, leave me a comment!



 Amber Gregg  




References
Bal, M. P., & Veltkamp, M. (2012, January 30). How does fiction reading influence empathy? An experimental investigation on the role of emotional transportation. PLOS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055341
Berns, G. S., Blaine, K., Prietula, M. J., & Pye, B. E. (2013). Short- and long-term effects of a novel on connectivity in the brain. Brain Connectivity, 3(6). doi: 10.1089/brain.2013.0166
Dugdale, G., & Clark, C. (2008, September). Literacy changes lives: An advocacy resource. National Literacy Trust.
Fox, M. (2008). Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Graves, M.F. (2011). Teaching Reading in the 21st Century (5th ed.). Columbus: Pearson Education
Lysander, R. (2014, October 17). Benefits of Reading: Illustrated [Digital image]. Retrieved February 1, 2016, from https://metamorphosisj.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/benefits-of-reading-infographic/
Watterson, Bill. "Calvin and Hobbes." Go Comics. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2016. .
Wilson, R. S., Boyle, P. A., Yu, L., Barnes, L. L., Schneider, J. A., & Bennett, D. A. (2013, July 3). Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging. Neurology. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829c5e8a

Wise, A. (n.d.). 8 Science-Based Reasons to Read a (Real) Book. Retrieved from RealSimple: http://www.realsimple.com/health/preventative-health/benefits-of-reading-real-books