Picking up a Book for Fun Positively Affects Verbal Abilities

Summary: Whether you are a fan of War and Peace, or would rather immerse yourself in romantic fiction, researchers say the more you read, the better your verbal skills. The study reports those who read fiction for leisure score higher on language tests than those who read to simply access specific information.

Source: Concordia University

Bring on Twilight. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher? Yes, please. More of James Patterson’s Alex Cross while we’re at it. And let’s finish off with revisiting the million-plus words of the Harry Potter saga.

No one will confuse the above book series with high literature. But a new study published in the journal Reading and Writing shows that the more people read any kind of fiction — even mass market stuff sniffily derided as pulp — the better their language skills are likely to be.

The piece was written by Sandra Martin-Chang, professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science, and PhD student Stephanie Kozak. They found that people who enjoyed reading fiction for leisure and who identified as a reader scored higher on language tests, whereas those who read to access specific information scored more poorly on the same tests.

Kyle Levesque of Dalhousie University, Navona Calarco of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Raymond Mar of York University also co-authored the paper.

As leisure reading declines as a pastime for younger adults especially, Martin-Chang says emphasizing the fun aspect of it can draw them back to novels while at the same time boost their verbal abilities.

“It’s always very positive and heartening to give people permission to delve into the series that they like,” Martin-Chang notes. “I liken it to research that says chocolate is good for you: the guilty pleasure of reading fiction is associated with positive cognitive benefits and verbal outcomes.”

Habit-forming pastime

Martin-Chang and Kozak used a scale developed by Mar called the Predictors of Leisure Reading (PoLR) to investigate reading behaviour (motivations, obstacles, attitudes and interests). They then examined how well the PoLR predicted the language skills of 200 undergraduate students, with all data gathered at York University.

The researchers note that the age range of the subjects in the study is of key interest. In early adulthood, reading becomes self-directed rather than imposed by others, which makes this a pivotal time for developing one’s own reading habits. This population is also rather understudied, with most existing research focusing far more on children.

The researchers administered a series of measures over two separate half-hour sessions. First, the volunteers completed the 48-question PoLR scale measuring various reading factors. They were then given language tests similar to those found in the SAT and a measure of reading habits called the Author Recognition Test.

This test asks respondents to select the names of real fiction and non-fiction authors they are familiar with from a long list of real and fake names. Scores on this test correlate with both actual reading behaviour and with verbal abilities: those who scored higher read more and have better verbal abilities than those who scored lower.

After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that reading enjoyment, positive attitudes and deeply established interests predict better verbal abilities and that they were more strongly associated with exposure to fiction than non-fiction.

The written word: a love story

The many benefits of reading have long been established. Besides having better verbal abilities, lifelong readers are known to be more understanding of others, more empathetic, less prejudiced, to attain higher socioeconomic status and even to live longer, healthier lives than non-readers.

Teachers and parents can nurture a love of reading by letting young people read what they want, without guilt or shame.

“This ingrained interest, wanting to read something over and over again, feeling compelled to read an entire series, feeling connected to characters and authors, these are all good things,” Martin-Chang concludes.

About this language research news

Source: Concordia University
Contact: Patrick Lejtenyi – Concordia University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
What’s your pleasure? exploring the predictors of leisure reading for fiction and nonfiction” by Sandra Martin-Chang, Stephanie Kozak, Kyle C. Levesque, Navona Calarco & Raymond A. Mar. Reading and Writing


What’s your pleasure? exploring the predictors of leisure reading for fiction and nonfiction

Leisure reading is associated with several important educational and cognitive benefits, and yet fewer and fewer young adults are reading in their free time.

To better study what drives leisure reading in undergraduates, we developed the Predictors of Leisure Reading (PoLR) scale. The PoLR investigates key predictors of leisure reading, namely reading motivations, obstacles, attitudes, and interests. We examined the PoLR’s ability to predict language skills in 200 undergraduates, both directly and indirectly via exposure to fiction and nonfiction texts.

Language skills were measured with a diverse battery of tasks, including items from two sections of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. We found that reading enjoyment predicts better verbal abilities, and this was often explained via exposure to fiction rather than nonfiction.

In contrast, participants who reported reading due to extrinsic pressures typically had weaker verbal abilities, often explained by stronger associations with nonfiction.

This pattern was observed across the raw correlations and in a series of path analyses. In sum, it was ‘reading enjoyment’ and ‘identifying as a reader’ that uniquely predicted better verbal abilities in our undergraduate sample.

The importance of these findings is discussed in relation to fostering reading enjoyment throughout the various stages of formal education.

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