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Just now! Why reading is so important to us

Reading: the most beautiful activity in the world

For us, reading is one of the most beautiful activities in the world, also - or above all - in the digital age. We know that reading is good for us. But what exactly are the benefits? What exactly happens in our heads when we read a book or a magazine? And what does the current state of research say about this?


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Read aloud: why we should do this as adults too


What happens in our brain when we read?

The professor for child development and cognitive and literary scholar Maryanne Wolf already dealt with the processes that take place in the brain during reading in her first book "Das lesende Brain" (2009). She says: "Many interactive and complex processes take place at the same time. When we read, we connect visual, linguistic, emotional and even motor areas in our brain."

8.55 million people in Germany pick up a book every day.

Source: Allensbach market and advertising media analysis (AWA)Tweet

New studies conclude that Reading can even change the structures in our brain. A team of neuroscientists from the Coll├Ęge de France found out that fictional reading particularly appeals to the left hemisphere of the brain, which processes the actions of books as simulated situations. Psychologists conclude from this an increased ability to change perspective and improved social skills. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute discovered from a study with magnetic resonance imaging that the connections in the brain also increase. Individual areas are particularly stimulated and strengthened, such as the cerebral cortex or the connection between the visual cortex and thalamus. If you read a lot, you can better distinguish between important and unimportant information.

Reading promotes empathy and creativity

According to psychology, deep reading also helps us learn empathy. "Theory of mind" is the name of the thought processes that you need to put yourself in the shoes of your counterpart and to develop compassion. There are initial studies that suggest that people who read regularly and a lot have a better theory of mind. A prominent example of a person who lacks this: Donald Trump. Wolf sees a connection between the politics of the US president, his obsession with Twitter and the fact that he seems to pick up a book at most for a photo shoot.

You can't start reading early enough!

  • According to the Reading Foundation, children develop better access to language and a feeling for sentence and text structures through early contact with books, and their vocabulary increases. In addition, those who immerse themselves in stories at an early age practice their imaginations.
  • The input we get from books leads to creative output. It starts with reading aloud, because children who are often read to later often pick up the book themselves. Regular reading aloud makes it easier to learn to read and, accordingly, to learn all of the positive effects mentioned.
  • A current report by the Institute of German Science shows that primary school students who read books regularly in their free time later have better school grades, not only in German and foreign languages.
  • Reading books, for example, also has a positive effect on performance in mathematics, because the ability to see connections and understand complex relationships is trained.
  • Reading also helps to assess the complexity of topics. According to the current PISA study, it pays off especially when dealing with the Internet, because then we are better able to get information on the Internet, to evaluate it, to assess its credibility.

Reading prevents illness

Reading is also said to have a preventive effect with regard to possible senile dementia. Those who have been mentally active all their life protect their brains from early degradation. The reason behind this is simple: our brain is a muscle and it has to be trained so that it does not atrophy.

Not all digital reading is the same as analog reading

Digital reading has not yet been explored nearly as extensively, but initial results show that it differs significantly from analogue. A Norwegian study earlier this year found that longer texts required greater attention and cognitive presence over a longer period of time. This in-depth reading process is less successful with digital reading. The latter also has advantages, however, because background information can be obtained via hyperlinks, for example.

Reading in the 21st century: Reach for books and magazines again - analogue or digital

Every day we spend hours at screens, scrolling through our social media feeds. Our attention span is limited. Smartphones keep us from concentrated reading because they offer distractions that are more satisfying in the short term, says Wolf.

Nevertheless, the either / or question of analog or digital is not sustainable, because both deliver different benefits. The fact is: Reading, regardless of the medium, is not an art, but a necessity. And it's political: According to Maryanne Wolf, the processes activated by reading books and magazines are the basis for an open and democratic society: "Reading creates better people and a better democracy."