Mental Health

Reading Is Severely Underrated. Let’s Work on Fixing That.

Between those pages just might lie the key to intelligence

My relationship with reading has been on and off throughout my life. Though our early love sparked many lamplit nights in grade school, something went horribly astray as years continued: what our slow, painful separation can most likely be attributed to are the myriad of books that I didn’t want to read – and reading them on a schedule.

Looking back, I wish my hiatus with reading had never occurred. I noticed that back then, the more pages I thumbed through, the clearer my head was, the better my grades were, and the smarter I was in comparison to my classmates.

I didn’t realize that being forced to read books I didn’t want to had caused me to (perhaps subconsciously) dislike reading altogether. Because of this, my grades sunk. I was quickly becoming one of my greatest fears: the average high school student.

My trademark intelligence I once possessed had evaporated and left me nothing but the inability to stand out from anyone.

I noticed this as I entered my upperclassmen years, but never did much about it. I read some John Green here and there, but didn’t read otherwise.

After my freshman year of college, I decided to make a change. I organized a list of every book I wanted to read, including several recommendations from friends and family. I began to ask for them on holidays.

It took one good novel to reinvigorate my love for reading.

That novel was Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s not remotely about a slaughterhouse, by the way, and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Surely enough, from the time I started reading consistently again I’ve been able to hold better, more enlightening conversations with my smarter peers (almost all of whom, I’ve noticed, read consistently), and the clouds in my head cleared as they once did when I was young.

I think that reading is the most effective way to strengthen your intelligence, perhaps even more so than school. I also think it’s overlooked far too often, especially by high school and college students.

I’ve wondered for a while why the impact of consistent reading is such an underrated phenomenon, and I honestly have no idea. The most blatant hypothesis, to me, is that I’m simply wrong. But why, then, are the most intelligent people in my life consistent readers? Why would I feel my cognitive thinking skills improve?

As it turns out, there is a bit of science behind this. This study published by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano shows that reading fiction improves Theory of Mind– the ability to identify and comprehend other’s emotions. Essentially, it’s a measurement of empathy.

The study goes on to say that fiction readers are shown to be better at identifying other’s emotions, due to the fact that “the same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships.”

It also stated that this change in Theory of Mind is temporary, meaning you have to read consistently to continue the empathetic impact.

It’s also widely known that reading contributes to building crystallized intelligence, or “book smarts.” Reading adds to your bank of information via vocabulary, facts, or otherwise.

There’s also proof on how novel reading affects brain connectivity. One might expect reading to utilize the left temporal cortex, the part of the brain that deals with language. What you likely don’t expect, though, is that reading also tends to affect the central sulcus, which manages sensations and movement.

This is due to the metaphor and imagery in books. For example: if you think about swimming, the neurons associated with it will be engaged.

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Though I didn’t find objective proof that reading makes you more intelligent (which is either a testament to my poor research methods or there being a shocking lack of studies on the matter), it is scientific fact that reading affects the brain in a positive way.

It increases empathy, adds to crystallized intelligence, and also widens brain connectivity. It’s also a great form of self-care.

Therefore, read! I don’t think I would have been able to get back into reading without any recommendations, so here’s a brief list of fantastic books that have changed my life for the better:

Hopefully you too will be able to either spark or rekindle the flame between yourself and the thousands of beautiful stories out there. It’s well worth it. We’re very happy together. Happy reading!

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Hudson Keown is a Junior at Arizona State University. His spare time...