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Reading is for life, not just for August
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Image Credit: Matias North

Reading is for life, not just for August

Our latest research commissioned by The Reading Agency uncovers the broader benefits of year-round reading for pleasure and empowerment.

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As we head into holiday season with our latest haul of never-read penguin classics or fully-loaded kindles, it’s a timely moment to think about what actually happens to us when we choose to read books in our leisure time and why we might want to keep it up all year round.

The number of children and adults regularly reading are reported to be in decline, with around a quarter of adults only ever reading a novel during their summer break. New BOP research commissioned by The Reading Agency highlights why reading is a past-time we should keep up with long after our suitcases are unpacked.

Much of the extant literature on the benefits of reading focuses on literacy and other educational outcomes, but our research explored the broader benefits of ‘reading for pleasure and empowerment’. This phrase is important because one of the main stipulations was to look at research literature that could include ‘reading to learn’ but not ‘learning to read’.

The additional benefits of reading for pleasure reported in studies published from around the world included improved wellbeing, improved social relations, a better understanding of self-identity and increased empathy. Many of these benefits were reported across the life-course, with a large amount of literature focusing on how reading for pleasure helps children to become more emotionally intelligent and increases their understanding of other cultures. There were also large population-level studies that linked increased recreational reading with reductions in dementia and depression symptoms.

Importantly, the reading had to be chosen as a leisure pursuit for many of these broader benefits to take place. While there are clear educational and literacy benefits through increased reading in general, it is upon choosing to read, finding it joyful and pleasurable as a past-time or seeking it out as an activity for self-improvement, that many of these broader outcomes are achieved.

So while the sun, sea and sangria may have something to do with the increased relaxation you feel on this year’s summer break, don’t underestimate the potential effects of that few hours of reading you probably don’t usually do. It may just be the imagination, the enlightenment and the informal learning about other people and cultures that you experience through all the page-turning and swiping that is really helping you to feel better.

The Reading Agency and their partners are building on this work in the coming months seeking to develop a clearer outcomes framework for the effects of reading for pleasure. 

Further information and the full report can be accessed below.

Dr Douglas Lonie is a Consultant at BOP

Literature Review

This literature review was commissioned by The Reading Agency and conducted by BOP Consulting between March and June 2015. It is the first stage in a wider programme of work to develop an outcomes framework to guide evaluation in the reading sector, funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation.

Project Report

Literature Review: The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment

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