A study has just been published finding that reading for pleasure makes your brain literally grow.
Relationships Among Cortical Thickness, Reading Skill, and Print Exposure in Adults was published last Friday and was written by Jason G. Goldman and Frank R. Manis from the University of Southern California. Only the abstract is available for free, but it was so intriguing that I purchased access to the entire paper.
The study if pretty technical — at least to non-neuroscientists like me — but its key points are clear. Here are a few key excerpts:
From the review of past research:
Lu et al. (2007), in turn, found that cortical thickness in the IFG was positively correlated with improvements in phonological processing ability in a sample of nonimpaired children. This relationship was not due to general maturation, because the thickness change in the region did
not correlate with another behavioral measure that also improved with age….
Here, in my mind, was the most critical part of the paper, which specifically makes a causation connection to pleasure reading:
Print exposure was the most consistent correlate of cortical thickness throughout the left hemisphere reading network, having signiﬁcant correlations with ﬁve of the six regions of interest: OT, AG, SMG, IFG opercularis, and IFG triangularis. The pattern of correlations indicates that individuals with more print exposure had thicker cortices within the left-hemisphere reading network. Converging evidence for the relationship between reading experience and cortical thickness comes from the “pleasure reading” item on the background questionnaire. The question was, “How often in the last four weeks did you read for pleasure at least 30 minutes?” There are six possible responses ranging from very rarely to once a day or more. Responses on this question correlated with cortical thickness in AG and SMG, as well as with the composite print exposure variable.
I’m sure that there are readers out there who can develop a far more sophisticated analysis of this study than I have here, and I hope you will share it with me.
I’ll definitely be sharing the study’s findings with my students. It’s just another reinforcement of the lessons we’ve done on what learning physically does to the brain, and which I’ve compiled in The Best Resources For Showing Students That They Make Their Brain Stronger By Learning and in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves.
Glad you liked the paper! (and next time, always worth asking the author for the PDF…)
However, I should point out that this study can’t speak to any sort of causal relationships, as all the measurements were correlations. I suspect that the links between reading experience, reading skill, and cortical structure are all bidirectional. That is, more reading experience begets higher reading skill, which leads a student to seek out even more reading experiences, which results in even higher reading skill, and so on. These sorts of circular processes have been called “Matthew Effects,” because the rich tend to get richer, and the poor tend to get poorer.
Only a long-term longitudinal study that began by measuring these experiential, cognitive, and neural variables in pre-reading children, and followed them periodically through childhood, adolescence, and into early adulthood could really make any meaningful claims about causality. (Though the Carreiras study, of late-literate adults, which I referenced at the end of the paper comes close)
Anyway, look for my post on this on my blog next week 🙂
Thanks for the clarification. And I’ll look forward to reading your post next week!
I love your work and I hope you are correct, but I can rule out the notion that people with thicker cortical tissue due to their genetic make up and other environmental factors are more likely to enjoy reading and read more as it comes easy for them. People generally don’t participate in activities that they aren’t good at. Be sure to let your fan know if you discover any more information on this topic and keep up the good work.