Does Reading Make You a Smarter Person? Here’s the Truth!

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From time to time various articles are being published claiming that reading can make you smarter. The question you probably have is whether this can be true.

Reading indeed makes you smarter. Studies indicate that reading regularly enhances brain functions. It allows you to think better, respond more efficiently to problems, make you a better speaker, and expand your knowledge and vocabulary. The culminating result is that you become smarter.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the ways reading can make you a smarter person. We also give some tips on the type of books to read.

How Does Reading Make You Smarter?

To understand how reading makes you smarter, we’ve had to have a brief look at what happens in your brain when you are reading.

Information is stored for Smart Usage Later

Information your brain receives is always stored to be recalled later – sometimes consciously, but most of the time unconsciously.

Let’s take vocabulary for instance. New words and phrases you encounter when reading are stored in your brain. Over time you start using these new words and phrases. In short, you become smarter the more your read.  

Frame of Reference is Expanded

As your brain doesn’t differentiate between experiences you’ve read about and real-life experiences, it means that the more you read, the more “experiences” form part of your brain’s frame of reference. 

The greater the number of experiences your brain can tap into later, the smarter you can evaluate situations and handle problems.

Various Brain Functions are Activated

It is a known fact that reading positively affects your brain. Reading also influences other brain functions that are associated with the process of becoming smarter.

According to a study conducted at Emory University, there is heightened connectivity in the areas in your brain associated with language, sensation, and body movement when you read. 

Later studies also detected activity in brain areas associated with symbol recognition, sounds, spoken language, emotions and perceptions, memory, and problem-solving.

Thus, through reading, you get smarter because you keep all these areas in your brain active. 

11 Ways Reading Can Make You Smarter

Although there are many ways that reading can make you smarter, we’ll look at 11 of them.

1.   Reading Improves Your Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind is a skill allowing you to think objectively not only about your own mental state, but also the mental state of others. And a person who can understand another person’s state of mind is generally seen as a smart person.

Reading can make you smarter as well. It activates the same area in the brain where the Theory of Mind skill originates. Frequent reading keeps that area of your brain active and enhances your Theory of Mind skill.  

2.   Reading Enhances Your Ability to Have Empathy

If one not only understands other people’s feelings and experiences but generally also supports them to overcome their problems, real empathy is shown.

Studies have shown that readers of fiction have more empathy than non-readers. This is because you can “put yourself in the shoes” of the characters in the book and also learn how they solve their problems.

The brain stores this information and uses it to help you to understand and support other people in real life.

The ability to have empathy is generally associated with a smart person.

3.   Reading Boosts Your Memory

A person with good memory is normally seen as a smart person. Reading boosts your memory as it activates the hippocampus which is a complex brain structure embedded into the temporal lobe and plays a major role in memory.

Related Article – 21 Benefits of Reading Regularly [Here’s Why We Should All Read!]

The more you read, the more you exercise the hippocampus, and ultimately the smarter you become as you can easily recall useful information from your memory.

4.   Reading Provides You with New Ideas

Smart people often offer new ideas on how to start something new or how to handle existing things more efficiently. But to generate and propose new ideas your brain needs a general knowledge “library”.

This “library” is filled with things you’ve experienced, heard, or read about. You can fill your brain’s library with many new concepts and ideas by just reading a lot.

Your reading will over time result in you being able to provide smart new concepts and ideas as reading also makes you creative and increases your imagination.

5.   Reading Improves Your Vocabulary and Verbal Skills

Smart people also have a comprehensive vocabulary. Frequent reading, especially if you read about a variety of topics, is the ideal way to expand your vocabulary.

Smart people also know how to use words and phrases correctly verbally and in writing. By reading a lot, you are not only learning new words but also how to use these words and phrases. 

6.   Reading Poetry Helps You to Do Effective Self-Reflection

Self-reflection is a skill most smart people have. They have developed the habit of deliberately recollecting previous actions to reflect on their own emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and decisions.

They then evaluate whether they have done things efficiently in the past or have to change to smarter ways in the future.

However, to recollect from the past you have to activate your autobiographical memory. Studies have shown that reading poetry activates autobiographical memory.

This is because poetry is generally written in such a way that it entices you to recollect your personal experiences. So, read poetry often, do self-reflection, and become a smarter person!

7.   Reading Novels Helps You with Critical Thinking

Good comprehension allows critical thinking, and people who are known for their critical way of thinking are considered smart. Researchers have found that reading novels activates areas in the brain associated with comprehension.

But apart from this brain activation, well-written novels also teach your brain to think in sequences and link cause and effect. This is in principle the basis of critical thinking.

The more you read, the more your brain adapts to this way of thinking, and the smarter you get.

8.   Reading Enhances Your Problem-Solving Skills

Reading makes you smarter by enhancing your problem-solving skills. By reading self-help manuals and how-to books you’ll learn more problem-solving skills, but even reading fiction assists you to solve problems

You draw connections between fiction and your own life when following the characters through the issues they encounter in the stories. The way they solve their problems helps you in many instances to find solutions to your problems.

As your brain doesn’t differentiate between what you’ve experienced yourself and what you’ve read, the problem-solving ideas in the fiction that you’ve read become part of your brain’s frame of reference.  

9.   Reading Improves Your Decision-making

Smart people generally have well-developed decision-making skills. You can also be a smart decision-maker by becoming a frequent reader.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is located in the front of the brain is amongst other things responsible for decision-making processes. Researchers using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans have found that reading novels activates the PFC.

The more the PFC is activated and enhanced through reading the more your decision-making skill is developed, enabling you to make smart decisions.

10. Reading Lets You Encounter Different Cultures

young boy or a man reading a book in his pyjamas

Learning more about history, traditions, and everyday life in other parts of the world not only exposes you to new perspectives but makes you smarter as well. Knowledge about other cultures enlarges your field of experience and perceptions. 

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit other regions or countries, reading is your best way to learn more about other cultures. Reading fiction allows you to connect with characters in novels with different life experiences. Reading biographies gives you perspective on how other people see the world.

11. Reading Keeps You Smart for Longer

Reading not only can make you smarter, but it can also keep you smart for longer.

For someone who has developed smart skills over a lifetime, it can be devastating to experience memory lapses as a result of a condition like Dementia.  Reading will keep your brain smart and active for longer.  

Although dementia is not curable, stimulation of the brain can slow down the process. Reading is the ideal mental exercise to stimulate the brain, just as physical exercise stimulates the body.

The more the brain is stimulated the better the dementia process is slowed down. Thus, even when the brain functions are deteriorating, reading can still help to keep you smart. Keep on reading as long as you can!

What Type of Books to Read to Become Smarter

Any book you read activates specific areas in your brain and enhances your vocabulary, memory, and skills. All these stimuli and information in some way help you to become smarter.  

However, to help you put your reading list together, we provide you with a summary to remind you of the variety of available books that will contribute to the process of making you smarter:

  • Poetry – specifically to help you to develop self-reflection skills.
  • Novels – include as many genres as possible, from detective novels to science fiction, to help you with problem-solving and empathy skills.
  • Biographies and autobiographies – to teach you about other people’s visions and experiences.
  • How-to books, scientific journals, and other non-fiction books on subjects you’re interested in.

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