4 Ways Reading Makes You a Better Person

It’s proven to help you relax and keep your memory sharp, among other things.

As if we needed another reason to dig into a great book, a new study recently found that reading makes you a nicer person.

Researchers at London’s Kingston University asked 123 participants how much they read books and plays or watched TV. After testing each person’s interpersonal skills, the researchers found that those who read romance novels and dramas showed the most empathy, while fiction readers ranked highest for positive social skills (read: they were the nicest). The TV fans studied were the least friendly and empathetic. 

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This isn’t the first time that science has concluded that reading is good for you. Here, four more ways it changes your life.

1

It Makes You More Empathetic.

woman-reading-bookstore
Photo by Baona/Getty Images

A 2013 study published in Science found that reading improved peoples’ “Theory of Mind” (ToM), or the ability to understand someone else’s different beliefs and feelings. But, the authors of the study noted that what you read matters. Those who read literary fiction scored highest on ToM tests, compared with those who read nonfiction and bestsellers. “Readers of literary fiction must draw on more flexible interpretive resources to infer the feelings and thoughts of characters,” authors David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano wrote in their findings. “Popular fiction, which is more readerly, tends to portray the world and characters as internally consistent and predictable. Therefore, it may reaffirm readers’ expectations and so not promote ToM.”

2

It Helps You Manage Stress.

When you sit down with a book, you need just six minutes to forget your troubles, according to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Sussex for the consulting company Mindlab International. They tested reading against other methods of relaxation, including walking, drinking a cup of tea, listening to music, and playing video games. Reading reduced participants’ stress levels by 68 percent. On average, readers only needed six minutes to lower their heart rates and relax their muscles. The next best thing—listening to music—lowered stress levels by 61 percent, while video games only decreased them by 21 percent.

3

It Improves Your Well-being.

According to researchers at the University of Liverpool in the U.K., reading can reduce symptoms of depression and boost confidence. The participants in the small study were diagnosed with depression, and then met in weekly reading groups for 12 months. During that time, they reported feeling reduced isolation, increased concentration and personal confidence, and heightened self-awareness. Though the study notes that the results are preliminary, we’ll take this as a sign that our book clubs are making us healthier.



4

It Gives Your Brain a Workout.

People who do brain-boosting activities, such as reading and writing, tend to show fewer signs of memory loss in old age, based on a 2013 study conducted by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The authors conducted memory and thinking tests on 294 people in the last six years of their lives, then performed autopsies to look for signs of dementia. The researchers found that those who were big, lifelong readers and writers showed 32 percent lower rates of memory decline.