Want To Make Your Child Smarter? Get Them To Read Fun Books

In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. During these early years when children read their favourite books, it helps in developing their construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem-solving, and decision-making. And as they enter adolescence, they score better on cognitive tests and have better mental health.

A study of more than 10,000 young teenagers in the US found that children who start reading for enjoyment early in life typically do better on cognitive tests and have better mental health when they enter adolescence. Researchers from the UK and China who studied more than 10,000 teenagers in the US discovered that 12 hours per week was the ideal quantity of reading and that this was associated with improved brain structure, which may assist to explain the findings.

The study was published today in Psychological Medicine. It can be important and pleasurable for kids to read for enjoyment. Reading is a taught skill that is gained and improved over time by intentional learning, in contrast to listening and spoken language, which develop quickly and effectively in young children.

The brain develops during childhood and adolescence

Our brains develop between childhood and adolescence, making this a crucial time to set up behaviours that support cognitive development and advance good brain health.  However, it has not yet been determined whether encouraging kids to read from a young age will have any effect on their brain development, cognition, or mental health in the future. Data from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) cohort in the US, which enrolled more than 10,000 young adolescents, was examined by researchers from Fudan University in China, Cambridge, and Warwick Universities in the UK, and Fudan University in China to learn more about this.

The team compared young people who started reading for pleasure at a relatively young age (between two and nine years old) against those who started later or not at all. The analysis included clinical interviews, cognitive tests, mental and behavioural assessments, and brain scans. Numerous significant characteristics, including socioeconomic level, were adjusted for in the analyses. Just under half (48%) of the 10,243 participants in the study had little or no experience reading for pleasure, or they had not started reading for pleasure until later in childhood. The remaining half had read for leisure for three to 10 years.

Reading for pleasure at an early age leads to positive performance and better mental well-being

The study’s researchers discovered a direct correlation between early enjoyment of reading and later success on cognitive tests measuring language learning, memory, speech development, and academic progress in school.

Additionally, these kids’ mental health was better, as seen by less indicators of stress and sadness, enhanced concentration, and fewer behavioural issues including aggression and rule-breaking, as determined by a variety of clinical scores and comments from parents and teachers. In their teens, adolescents who started reading for pleasure earlier also tended to spend less time on screens (such as watching TV or using a smartphone or tablet) during the week and on the weekends and to sleep for longer periods of time.

Early reading develops larger brain areas and volumes

When the researchers examined brain scans from the adolescent cohort, they discovered that those individuals who had developed a love of reading for pleasure at a young age displayed somewhat larger total brain areas and volumes, including brain regions that are important for cognitive functioning.

Other brain areas that have been linked to better mental health, behaviour, and attention in the past were also different in this group. Professor Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge said: “Reading isn’t just a pleasurable experience – it’s widely accepted that it inspires thinking and creativity, increases empathy, and reduces stress.

But on top of this, we found significant evidence that it’s linked to important developmental factors in children, improving their cognition, mental health, and brain structure, which are cornerstones for future learning and well-being.” For young children, 12 hours of pleasure reading per week was the ideal quantity.

There didn’t seem to be any other advantages beyond this. In fact, there was a progressive decline in cognition, which the researchers speculate may be because it implies people are spending more time sedentary and less time engaging in activities like sports and social interactions, which could be cognitively stimulating.

Professor Jianfeng Feng from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and the University of Warwick, UK, said: “We encourage parents to do their best to awaken the joy of reading in their children at an early age. Done right, this will not only give them pleasure and enjoyment but will also help their development and encourage long-term reading habits, which may also prove beneficial into adult life.” Funders included: Wellcome and the National Institute for Health & Care Research (UK) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Story Source:
Materials provided by the University of Cambridge. The original text of this story is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Yun-Jun Sun, Barbara J. Sahakian, Christelle Langley, Anyi Yang, Yuchao Jiang, Jujiao Kang, Xingming Zhao, Chunhe Li, Wei Cheng, Jianfeng Feng. Early-initiated childhood reading for pleasure: associations with better cognitive performance, mental well-being and brain structure in young adolescence. Psychological Medicine, 2023; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291723001381

Page citation:
University of Cambridge. “Reading for pleasure early in childhood linked to better cognitive performance and mental wellbeing in adolescence.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 June 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/06/230627191516.htm>.

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