Kids with this hobby make better test takers, new Cambridge study suggests—and enjoy better mental health


By: Aditi Shrikant@ADITI_SHRIKANT

Little girl in maroon cardigan smilling and holding a stack of books above her head. She is in a library.

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Kids who read for pleasure 12 hours per week perform better on cognitive tests and have better mental health, according to a recently published study in Psychological Medicine.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Fudan University looked at data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, a long-running project that tracks brain development and child health in the United States. 

The team analyzed clinical interviews, cognitive tests, mental and behavioral assessments and brain scans from 10,000 adolescents in the United States. It then compared those who began reading for pleasure between ages two and nine to those who began reading later in life, or not at all. 

Those who started read recreationally at an early age had better verbal learning, memory, speech development, and academic achievement than their peers who weren’t picking up books for fun. 

Reading is linked to ‘important developmental factors’

Kids who read for pleasure had better mental well-being, showed fewer signs of depression or stress, and had fewer behavioral problems, the researchers found. They spent less time looking at screens, like TVs and phones, and were able to sleep longer. 

When looking at brain scans of the kids, researchers found that those who read for pleasure had greater brain area and volume, including in regions that are related to cognitive functions. 

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More is not always better, though. Kids who exceeded 12 hours per week in reading experienced a decrease in cognition, which might be due to too much sedentary time. 

 “Reading isn’t just a pleasurable experience – it’s widely accepted that it inspires thinking and creativity, increases empathy and reduces stress,” Barbara Sahakian, a professor at the University of Cambridge department of psychiatry, told

“On top of this, we found significant evidence that it’s linked to important developmental factors in children, improving their cognition, mental health, and brain structure, which are cornerstones for future learning and well-being.”

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