It seems as often as you walk into the pediatrician’s office they inform you of the benefits of reading to your child every day. Those benefits are often quickly passed over; as if you, as a parent, should just accept the idea and move on–like signing the flu shot waver.
The benefits of reading, however, are numerous and begin in an area of the brain’s visual cortex dubbed “the letterbox” by researchers. With literacy, areas of the brain (lateral occipital) increase their activation, not only to words but to all sorts of stimuli, like pictures, suggesting that learning to read redefines the capacity to recognize any picture. Literacy may even be responsible for increased facial recognition since literate people learn to focus their attention better and in a more flexible manner.
As far as novel reading goes: “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” according to neuroscientist Professor Gregory S. Berns. Or in lay man’s terms: the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes improves the ability to be compassionate.
A recent study led by Professor Loris Venzzali of the University of Modern and Reggio Emilia in Italy found that reading Harry Potter improved attitudes toward homosexuals and increased compassion for refugees. According to Scientific American, Vezzali’s work supported earlier research that suggested reading novels as a child–literary engagement with life’s social, cultural, and psychological complexities–can have a positive impact on personality and development skills.
Another study found that reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction, resulted in keener social perception and increased empathy as readers occupy the perspectives of those they might not have otherwise considered.
So while stress reduction, better writing skills, and improved focus and concentration might be the benefits your pediatrician touts, there are far wider ranging benefits to reading than ever imagined.
Rachael Wright is a Colorado native with degrees in History and Political Science from Colorado Mesa University and is a columnist for Colorado Politics. She is a devoted tea drinker, a Manchester United fan, wife, and mother. Rachael lives outside of Denver with her husband, daughter, and crammed bookshelves.
Much of her writing is drawn from her experiences as a police wife, a life in politics, and the challenges of parenting. Although her first two novels were glibly classified as women’s fiction, she believes that death and loss and relationships are not issues that only women deal with or that women want to read. We are all of us drawn to stories that help us understand our own lives. You can discover more about Rachel here: www.authorrachaelwright.com