Let me paint a picture for you: Jason was a voracious reader in high school and college. He belonged to book clubs for most of his young adult life because reading, particularly reading fiction, gave him pleasure.
He felt he could relate to people better, communicate with more confidence and was a better listener as a result of his reading passion.
In the past 10 years, he has dropped out of his book club and noticed himself becoming less social. He also became aware of the fact that he hadn’t finished a book in a few years. Typically, he would devour a book from cover to cover, but now he finds himself skimming for the important information and getting bored before finishing his books. He has also stopped reading fiction and now dabbles in political non-fiction.
In the flurry of texts, tweets, likes, posts, emails and blogs, not to mention Instagrams, YouTube videos and Facebook, Jason’s brain and his attention span has been conditioned to rely on short blasts of information. While online reading and social media is here to stay, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal presented compelling evidence for Jason to engage in some good old-fashioned reading time. (1)
According to the article, Jason isn’t alone. The ability to finish a book or lose yourself in a good novel is becoming less common and is linked to some cognitive and social risks. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, about 76 percent of Americans 18 or older reported reading one book in the past year. In 2011, that number was 79 percent and, although a small drop, this is a trend we should be concerned about. (1)
The Slow Reading Movement
Fighting this trend is the Slow Reading Movement. Slow reading is defined as uninterrupted reading for 30 minutes or more. Subscribers say it reduces stress, improves concentration, comprehension and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. (1)
The benefits of book reading are well-known. One study, published in the Journal of Neurology, showed that regularly engaging in challenging mental activities, such as reading, slowed the rate of memory loss later in life. (1)
Another study, published in the Journal of Science, found that reading fiction helped people become more compassionate by better understanding the mental states and beliefs of others. (1)
Attention span on the web, the ability to finish a book, and eye movement while reading webpages was also studied. They found that the eye moves across the first line, halfway across the next few lines, and then down the left side of the page.Researchers found that this way of reading drastically affects comprehension levels. (1)
Reading online, navigating around pictures, sounds and multimedia was also found to lower comprehension. (1)
While Jason is a fictional example, this story is becoming more and more common in today’s culture, so take some advice from Jason. Find a slow reading club and sit, sip some herbal tea, put some classical music on in the background, and lose yourself the old-fashioned way in a good book!
Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress. The Wall Street Journal.
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Author: John Douillard
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Seth Sawyers at Flickr
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