Scientific evidence for the benefits of Readaxation - at last!
You might think we don't need evidence for something so obvious - that reading is good for our mental health and our brains in many ways - but if we are to ask for support to promote reading for pleasure, we will be asked for evidence. Now we have it.
THIS is what I have been waiting for! I have also been waiting to be allowed to talk about it. And now I can! *dances an unrestrained dance of shouty happiness*
Any of you who have been to my talks and professional training about reading/reading for pleasure/reading for wellbeing/readaxation will have heard me say things like “I’d love the research to be more robust” or “Don’t write that stat down because I’m about to tell you that the research was flimsy.”
Now, we have it: strong research that backs up our passionately and intuitively held beliefs, that reading for pleasure (and I’ll come to that phrase in a minute) has wide-ranging physiological, psychological and cognitive benefits. That it builds empathy and wellbeing. As the press release from The Reading Agency says, “There is strong evidence that reading for pleasure can increase empathy, improve relationships with others, reduce the symptoms of depression and the risk of dementia, and improve wellbeing throughout life.”
So, readaxation is not just something I thought was important: I now know it is. I am very excited about this.
Importantly, it is not just one study. A single study always requires caution. But this is that most excellent of things: a meta-study. A study of studies. A study which has looked at all the research of recent years, analysed it against strong criteria to decide which studies were sufficiently robust in terms of methodology etc, come up with 51 studies which made the grade, and then analysed those to decide what we actually can say about the effects of recreational reading.
The results are a wonderful support for anyone, like me, who seeks to encourage more people of all ages to make time for reading for pleasure (and politicians and funding bodies to recognise the benefits.) I’ll use the details in my talks (including this and this at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year - please come to the second one; the first is sold out), but the bare bones are below.
<strong>First, though, let me say something about this phrase “reading for pleasure”</strong>. The Reading Agency report defines its focus as both “recreational reading” AND “reading for empowerment”. So, they mean reading that you <em>choose to do, for yourself, whether for the purpose of relaxation or of empowerment</em> via, for example, self-help books.
I don’t like the term “reading for pleasure”, for two main reasons:
- There’s often an assumption that such reading will usually be fiction, but, for it to have the positive benefits that we attach to the act of recreational reading, it doesn’t need to be fiction.</li>
- The word “pleasure” carries connotations of “guilty”, as if reading for pleasure is something self-indulgent, something we should only do on holiday or at weekends, or when we aren’t too busy. And I argue that relaxation is far too important to mental and physical health to be relegated to holidays. We should <em>never</em> feel guilty about reading.
Victor Nell, writing in 1988, talks about the motivation to read, and a key strand of this is the “expectation of benefit”. So, what are the benefits of “recreational reading” or "reading for empowerment” as revealed in this Literature Review?
- That enjoyment of reading “is a prerequisite for many of the other outcomes”. It matters that we enjoy it, not just that we do it.
- That, especially for children, reading books one has chosen for oneself (“autonomous motivation”) has a stronger effect on enjoyment and other outcomes (such as recreational reading frequency, engagement and comprehension) than reading books that have been externally-directed (“controlled motivation”)
- That reading does impact positively on: identity, understanding of one’s own and other social groups, relationships with others, empathy, knowledge development, academic performance (beyond literacy outcomes) and, importantly for my own theories about readaxation, on relaxation, stress levels and depression.
- That “evidence suggests there is a role for recreational reading in the treatment of certain health conditions, as well as maintaining good health and wellbeing across the life course.”
I will be using every chance, including as the forthcoming SoA CWIG chair, to promote this research because it’s vital that we can say with good certainty that reading for enjoyment has numerous benefits for mind and body and that readaxation is a perfect route to wellbeing.
HOORAY FOR BOOKS WE WANT TO READ! Hooray for readaxation!
And one more small personal hooray: I’m absolutely delighted that the steering group overseeing this research and its propagation have asked me to join them for the second phase.
You see, this isn’t finished. The report is the first stage of a wider project. “The long term goal is to create a robust reading outcomes framework which will […] be used to drive improvement, build understanding about the benefits of reading and broaden the reach of reading programmes.”
Let's talk about this. It's really important. Please share widely amongst your networks. Here is that link to the report again. We're using the hashtag #readingforpleasure - join us!
(Reblogged from www.nicolamorgan.com)