Reading is not just another leisurely activity or a way of brushing up your literacy skills and factual knowledge – it acts as a tonic for the brain too.
Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield suggests that reading helps to expand attention spans in kids. “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,” she says.
“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,” Greenfield added.
Reading can enrich our relationships by increasing our understanding of other cultures and helping us learn to empathise, the Daily Mail reports.
“In a computer game, you might have to rescue a princess, but you don’t care about her, you just want to win,” explains Greenfield. “But a princess in a book has a past, present and future, she has connections and motivations. We can relate to her. We see the world through her eyes.”
John Stein, emeritus professor of neuroscience at Magdalen College, Oxford, says reading is far from a passive activity. “Reading exercises the whole brain,” he explains. Reading stories to children will help their brains develop the ability to analyse the cause, effect and significance of events
In 2009, a brain-imaging study in the US showed that reading about landscapes, sounds, smells and tastes, activates brain areas tied to these experiences in real life, creating new neural pathways. Simply stated, our brains simulate real experiences, which doesn’t happen when you’re watching TV or playing computer games.
In 2009, University of Sussex researchers showed how six minutes of reading can slash stress levels by more than two-thirds, more than listening to music or going out for a walk.