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Reading trashy romances? Carry on

A new study published in the journal Reading and Writing shows that the more people read any kind of fiction—even mass market potboilers—the better their language skills

Identifying as a reader uniquely predicted better verbal abilities
Identifying as a reader uniquely predicted better verbal abilities (Matias North/Unsplash)

Don't look down on people who read self-published werewolf romances on Kindle, can't resist picking up the latest Penny Jordan bodice-ripper and positively look forward to Chetan Bhagat's latest—'reading enjoyment' has been shown to improve verbal aptitude compared to those who read to "access specific information." In other words, reading purely for pleasure, even if you're not exactly reading Booker-winning authors, is good for you. And this is especially true of children and young adults.

The study was led by researchers at Concordia University, Canada, Sandra Martin-Chang, professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science, and PhD student Stephanie Kozak, who say that "leisure reading is associated with several important educational and cognitive benefits, and yet fewer and fewer young adults are reading in their free time".

To better study what drives leisure reading in undergraduates, they developed the Predictors of Leisure Reading (PoLR) scale. The PoLR investigates key predictors of leisure reading, namely reading motivations, obstacles, attitudes, and interests. Examining the PoLR’s ability to predict language skills in 200 undergraduates, both directly and indirectly via exposure to fiction and nonfiction texts, they measured language skills with a battery of tasks, including items from two sections of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. "We found that reading enjoyment predicts better verbal abilities, and this was often explained via exposure to fiction rather than non-fiction. In contrast, participants who reported reading due to extrinsic pressures typically had weaker verbal abilities, often explained by stronger associations with non-fiction," say the researchers.

It was ‘reading enjoyment’ and ‘identifying as a reader’ that uniquely predicted better verbal abilities in our undergraduate sample. The importance of these findings is discussed in relation to fostering reading enjoyment throughout the various stages of formal education.

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