Why reading is so important to us

Woman Beach Reading

Why is reading so important to us? And what happens to body and psyche when we read? Exciting news from brain research and psychology.

For us, reading is one of the most beautiful activities in the world, even – or especially in the digital age. We know that reading is good for us. But what exactly are the benefits of it? What exactly happens in our minds when we read a book or a magazine? And what does the current state of research say about this?

New studies conclude that reading can even change the structures in our brains. For example, a team of brain researchers from the College of France found that belletristic reading particularly appeals to the left hemisphere of the brain and processes the actions of books as simulated situations. Psychologists conclude that this will lead to an increased ability to change perspectives and improve social skills. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute discovered from a study with magnetic resonance imaging that links in the brain also increase. Individual areas are particularly stimulated and strengthened, such as the cerebral cortex or the connection between the very bark and the thalamus. Those who read a lot can therefore better distinguish between important and unimportant information.

Reading promotes empathy and creativity

According to psychology, profound reading also helps us learn empathy. “Theory of mind” is the thought processes that are needed to immerse one’s counterpart and develop compassion. There are initial studies suggesting that people who read regularly and read a lot have a better “theory of mind”. Wolf sees a connection between the US president’s policies, his obsession with Twitter and the fact that he seems to be taking a book in his hand for a photo shoot at most.

Reading prevents disease

Reading should also have a preventive effect on possible age dementia. Those who have been mentally active throughout their lives protect their brain from early degradation. The rationale is simple: our brain is a muscle and it needs to be trained so that it does not wither.

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Digital reading is not the same as analog reading

Digital reading has not yet been researched nearly as far, but initial results show that it is very different from analogue. A Norwegian study earlier this year found that longer texts require greater attention and cognitive presence over a longer period of time. This in-depth reading process is less successful with digital reading. However, the latter also has advantages, because, for example, it is possible to obtain background information via hyperlinks.

Reach for books and magazines again – analogue or digital

Every day we spend hours on screens, scrolling through our social media feeds. Our attention span is limited. Smartphones keep us from focusing reading because they provide distractions that satisfy faster in the short term, Wolf said.

Nevertheless, the either-or question of analog or digital is not sustainable, because both deliver different benefits. The fact is that reading, no matter what medium, is not art, but a necessity.