The love of reading is one of the measures of intelligence. Connecting with the world via the printed page (or more frequently today, using digital or audio options) is a way to be entertained, educated, and socially responsible. From the earliest development of writing, ownership of books was a sign of wealth and wisdom. However, not all books are utilized for the joy of reading. To a large extent, the reading habit is formed through a series of influences, activities, encouragement and mentoring.
Factors which encourage reading include time, space, access to books, encouragement from parents, teachers and peers, and overcoming physical limitations such as poor vision or dyslexia. Studies show the importance of creating a positive mental response in individuals assigned a reading task.
Here are some of the physical, mental and emotional factors which contribute to the development of reading habits throughout the entire lifetime. These elements begin with the assumption that reading is a positive influence and one which is to be encouraged and enjoyed.
The Mechanics of Reading
Reading is defined as the act of looking at printed words and understanding or comprehending what they are saying. Further, reading is the act of saying those words out loud or of interpreting those words. Reading is a cognitive process that involves decoding symbols which the reader is exposed to. There is some challenge in making the connection between the spoken language and how it appears in print.
Symbols with complex linguistic meaning are one of the elements which must be present in order to read. This can be perceived visually, or through a touch system such as is used in Braille. The sensory input to the brain is the first step in reading. Comprehension of the symbols follows, sometimes through images linked to symbols which form letters and words. A beginning reader will often attach meaning to symbols by sounding out letter sounds to make words.
Another challenge which can affect the ability to link symbols and meaning lies in learning disabilities such as dyslexia. This condition is defined as a category of disorders that create difficulty in learning to read, or interpreting letters, words or other symbols. The condition does not affect general intelligence.
Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability characterized by difficulty in accurate or fluent recognition of words. It is also defined by limited decoding abilities and poor spelling.
With increased emphasis on identifying and addressing learning disabilities of all types, challenges in applying the mechanics of reading can be overcome to some extent. Dedicated teachers, determined parents, and attention to other factors affecting reading habits must follow the mechanical features of reading.
The Environment of Reading
Optimal lighting on the pages of a book, or on the screen of digital devices such as Kindle and smartphones is important to protect the vision. Poor lighting in terms of color, type, or intensity can affect whether you enjoy sitting down with a good book, or not.
Amber lights are recommended for reading prior to sleep, while blue lighting can inhibit drowsiness. General reading is benefited by the use of cool white lights. Use brighter white lights for working and studying. Comfort at varying brightness levels of reading lights is often linked to the age and needs of the reader.
What is the Best Position for Reading?
Reading may take place in the mind, but there is also a physical component to it. The position you choose while reading is important. If you are uncomfortable, you probably won’t read as long, or gain as much interest and enjoyment from the material you are reading.
There are a limited number of positions to use while reading. These are, in order of popularity,
- Lying on your back
- On your side
- On your stomach
The recommended position to read a book is while sitting on a chair with your back upright. Your feet should be placed firmly on the ground and your knees at a 90 degree angle. Your head should be held straight and your neck should not be tilted. If necessary, your elbows can be supported and cushions can be placed to enhance comfort.
Reading in bed or while lying in a horizontal position is harmful to the eyes. This position puts a strain on the extraocular muscles which are responsible for eye movement. If you want the enjoyment of a bedtime book, the best position to read a book in bed is with your back upright and your neck not tilted forward. Make sure that the book is raised to eye level and avoid bending your head forward. Stretch out your legs straight on the bed and use cushions to support your back.
Sound and Reading – Are They Compatible?
Studies show that speech, background noise, and music all have a small but reliably detrimental effect on reading performance. This is largely due to the negative effects that background noise can have on concentration. While most students are convinced that listening to music while studying is helpful, this is not confirmed by the research. If background noise or conversation is part of the reading environment, noise-canceling headphones are a helpful solution.
Which is Better, Print or Digital?
While a smartphone, tablet, or similar device may weigh less and be easier to hold in a reading position, it also transmits blue light, which has become a concern for some while reading late in the evenings, as it can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone which is critical for regulating the circadian rhythm.
A number of studies have demonstrated that glasses which block blue light can be effective, but optometrists have not yet recommended blue-blocking glasses to protect your eyes. To date, there is not a preponderance of evidence that these glasses reliably improve eye health or reduce eye strain.
What is the Optimum Print Size?
One of the benefits of using e-readers is that the print size can be adjusted to optimize text for day or night reading. Large print books are one solution, but these may only be available in limited titles. The recommendation for easy reading is a font that is at least 16 pixels. Older adults or others with visual impairment may want to use an even larger size font. A small font can be more challenging to read, particularly for users who have limited literacy skills.
Why Do People Read?
Reading to Gain Information
Reading to gain information is one of the more common reasons for picking up a book, magazine, or digital device. Reading books is critical for education courses from earliest childhood. High school and university classes typically rely on homework assignments which use textbooks as a framework for a follow up lecture, testing, discussions and in-class exercises.
Children who are unable to read have limitations in every aspect of society. Street signs, driving tests, and references to written materials are all part of gathering information. Adults who are unable to read, regardless of the reason, are limited by their inability to read directions, signs, and menus, for example, The inability to read may affect signing legal documents, rental agreements and contracts for purchase of a house or automobile.
Reading to Advance Your Career
Whether you are just entering the job market, or are a long-time employee looking for a step up the career ladder, the ability to read is crucial for nearly all types of positions in the working environment. Unskilled laborers might come to mind as examples of jobs where reading ability is not critical, but typically reading is tied to advancement in any career field.
Reading for Entertainment
Given a choice of reading a textbook and reading a novel from your favorite author, most people would choose the entertainment value of a good work of fiction. Whether you are a fan of science fiction, romance, westerns, or alternative history, there are millions of options available as a way to escape mundane reality and explore what-ifs. Expanding your horizons through the choice of new topics, new authors, or new venues is fun and helps to open your mind.
The ability to build and foster imagination is useful not only in childrens’ play, but also in developing creativity and problem-solving skills as an adult. Reading encourages a very different set of mental skills than consuming television or a movie, because the mind learns to create the landscape associated with the book. The reader is also not limited by technological barriers and special effects budget constraints, but only by the possibilities they can imagine.
In the Western world, the ability to read is expected. Even in third world countries, reading is an important element in judging whether the society is advancing or is stagnant. For an adult who is unable to read, there is a level of embarrassment for the non-reader and assumptions made about lack of intelligence by other members of the public. Parents who cannot read are unable to help children with the school work which allows the child to take part in today’s culture and society.
What are the Emotional Factors Which Affect Reading Habits?
If a child spends all of their time watching television or playing games, the encouragement to spend more time reading must be a conscious effort on the part of the parent. Making time to find appropriate reading material and encourage children to enjoy it should be a part of every interaction within the family. Children will often mirror what they perceive to be their parents’ attitudes toward reading, as well. If parents never voluntarily pick up a book, it is unlikely that their children will learn to recognize reading as a positive or enjoyable activity.
While not every family has the financial resources to purchase books, there are libraries and other lending programs which make a rich supply of books available. A regular trip to the library and the ability to check out books to read is a helpful way to encourage good reading habits.
Teachers and other adults serve as an avenue for encouraging children to read. Assigned summer reading, homework assignments, and reading aloud to children encourages them to pick up books for themselves.
Peer pressure in life is an emotional push for developing reading habits. Time spent around the water cooler at work may help to recommend the latest novel, how-to, or self-help volume. Reading clubs or reading circles have remained a popular social avenue in spite of COVID-19. When there is time to read, the meeting doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Reading club members can come together virtually.
Although sometimes book aficionados are perceived as anti-social or reserved, there is growing scientific evidence that exposure to a wide range of reading material can help develop prosocial behaviors. It allows reading individuals to experience, imagine, and empathize with a broader variety of people, social situations, cultures, and environments than would be possible otherwise.
Timing and Reading Opportunities
Many people who juggle jobs, school, family, and housework feel that squeezing out time to read from an already over-long and over-crowded day is impossible. Developing a reading habit takes commitment to ‘me time’. The one-dimensional lifestyle is not a healthy one. Even if you can only spare a few minutes daily on a commuter train, in a doctor’s waiting room, or before bed, to open a new book or re-read something from a favorite author, it will be time well spent.
Benefits of Developing A Purposeful Reading Habit
Regular reading will pay off in reduced stress and more enjoyment of life. Other benefits found in research studies include boosting brain stimulation, improving creativity, increasing empathy, sharpening the mind, and relieving mental health problems, dementia, and chronic pain.
A reading habit may even help to provide solutions for some of the vexing problems which arise in relationships and experiences. It can increase motivation, improve concentration, and simply improve literacy through practice and exposure.