We all know that reading has a huge number of health benefits, is a crucial part of our education, and a great tool for self-development, but does reading make you smarter or does reading increase IQ?
Well, that’s a different story and finding the answer to this question has always been quite the challenge.
First things first, let’s make the distinction between being smart and being intelligent as clear as possible.
Being smart is an acquired aptitude, meaning that we are not born smart, we become smart as we learn new things and acquire new information throughout our lives. How much information we gather and how we apply that information in our day-to-day lives define how smart we are.
Being intelligent on the other hand is an innate quality and is a natural trait that is unique to each person depending on their particular DNA. How we process new information, how quickly we learn new things, and our ability to find solutions in certain new situations defines our level of intelligence.
Now that this distinction is clear, let’s have a closer look at the effects reading has on our smartness and intelligence.
Does reading make you smarter?
Since reading is a way of getting information from written text and smartness is a measure of how much information we gather throughout our lives, the obvious answer is yes. Reading does make you smarter.
The more you read, the more information you acquire, and therefore the smarter you get. Unfortunately, how smart we actually are cannot be measured. While our intelligence can be easily measured through an IQ test and expressed with a number, our smartness is a much more complex personal trait.
Books are amazing sources of information. Whether you’re reading a technical book that teaches a particular skill or you’re simply reading novels to pass the time, you still gather information that is added to your overall knowledge. In certain ways, learning a particular skill or the details of a historical event and simply reading fiction for fun, have an influence on how smart you are.
Does reading increase IQ?
As I mentioned earlier, IQ, which actually stands for “intelligence quotient”, is a way of measuring one’s level of intelligence.
While a clear correlation between one’s IQ score and the amount of reading done by that particular individual hasn’t been found and documented, it is still worth taking into account that there are several types of intelligence and reading does have an influence on some of them to a certain extent.
Fluid intelligence is defined as one’s ability to reason, make connections, find solutions to solve problems and understand abstract concepts. While this is more of an innate quality, the influence of reading on this type of intelligence cannot be completely dismissed. This quality may be built into our DNA, but reading is an essential building block in our education and plays a crucial role in our development.
Crystallized intelligence is the sum of our overall knowledge. This includes our vocabulary and all the skills acquired throughout our lives. Sounds pretty similar to what the definition of being smart is, right?
We must therefore conclude that reading has a major influence on our crystallized intelligence, considering how much of our general knowledge is acquired through reading.
Emotional intelligence is a concept that became popular back in 1995 thanks to Daniel Goleman’s best-seller “Emotional Intelligence” and is defined as one’s ability to perceive, identify, understand and control emotions in themselves or others.
Despite being a rather new and complex concept and the fact that this type of intelligence cannot be measured like our IQs, studies have shown a clear correlation between reading and emotional intelligence. Those who read, especially from a young age, find it easier to understand their own emotions and those of others, since they have been exposed to different stories and experiences through the characters of the books they read.
So, does reading increase intelligence? To some extent, yes. While it won’t change any personal traits that are hard-coded in your DNA, it can help develop certain types of intelligence which will help you just as much in your day-to-day life.
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How does reading make you smarter?
Now that we’ve established the premise that reading does indeed make us smarter and also plays a role in our intelligence to a certain extent, it’s time to better understand how this happens. There are a couple of key points worth taking into consideration, and the most important ones are detailed below.
Reading helps improve theory of mind
Theory of mind is quite an abstract concept, but to keep it simple, it can be viewed as our ability to attribute emotions, beliefs, and desires to other people, to see them as mental beings and understanding or even predicting their actions based on the identified emotions, beliefs, and desires.
Also referred to as “intuitive psychology”, the theory of mind can be greatly influenced by the number of books we read, especially in our childhood while our mind and personality are in full development.
By exposing a child’s mind to different stories, fictional characters with emotions that influence their actions throughout the novels, it gains the ability to apply the gathered information in real-life situations as well.
Reading sharpens your memory
While reading is a great way of gathering information and learning new things and skills, it also plays a major role in how your memory works. Since comprehension and actually remembering information are considered vital in establishing how smart a person is, a good memory is understandably a big player in the equation.
Your mental ability to memorize things can be trained, just like a muscle, through exercise. And one of the most efficient and healthy ways to train your brain into memorizing information more easily is reading.
Perhaps surprisingly, reading apps can have an influence on how much you can memorize while reading. Certain apps, including Basmo, allow you to take notes while reading. Not only does this help you find the important information more easily, but chances are that actually writing your thoughts or the relevant details you decide are important to you will actually help you remember them.
Here is an example how easy is to log your notes and thoughts on Basmo while you’re reading
- Click on the + sign to search for the book you’re currently reading. A list with possible book titles and authors will pop up.
- To start your reading session, tap on that book and on the Start Session button.
- Anytime you want to take notes, just open back the app. You’ll find a special section dedicated to writing your thoughts.
- When you’re done, you can tap on the End Session!
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Reading improves decision making
Studies have shown that reading (especially fiction), reduces our need for certainty and closure, which in turn allows us to keep an open mind. Having an open mind is an essential trait for a decision-maker.
As I mentioned earlier, part of being smart involves our abilities to make decisions or find solutions to problems based on our past experiences and the information we gathered up until that point in time.
Therefore, improving your decision-making plays a big role in how smart you are and reading can greatly help you achieve new highs in this aspect.
Reading allows better self-reflection
Being smart also implies a certain level of knowledge about yourself as a person and entity. The way you position yourself in rapport with others, how you see yourself, and how well you understand the way you act and why is part of your emotional intelligence.
As I already mentioned above, reading can help improve your emotional intelligence, which in turn will allow you to have a better idea about who you are and how you feel.
Self-reflection is a very important element in your personal development because that is how you know who you are and who you want to become.
Reading improves vocabulary
Our vocabulary, which is a key component of our crystallized intelligence plays an essential role in our existence. It allows us to communicate better, to find more efficient ways of expressing ourselves, and can tell a lot about ourselves.
As shown by researchers in different studies, reading is a great tool for improving vocabulary, especially in children and teenagers. And it makes a lot of sense. By exposing yourself (or your child for that matter) to written words from novels or stories, it is inevitable not to find words you haven’t heard or used before. Understanding their meaning from context or from a dictionary and remembering them will add them to your vocabulary, enriching it.
Reading improves comprehension of the environment and real-life events
There’s an old anecdote that applies perfectly to this point.
While swimming, a dolphin meets a group of smaller fish and says:
– Hello, the water is quite nice today, right?
The other fish look at each other confused and one of them asks the others:
– Does anyone know what he’s saying? What does he mean by “water”?
This shows the difference between a smart being and one that doesn’t understand the environment they’re in. While it doesn’t apply to the same extent to humans, the sentiment is similar.
Books will help you better understand your place in the world, what you represent, how your environment influences you, and how you interact with others. By gathering knowledge from books throughout your life, you become more present and mentally involved in your existence and your own life events.
Reading helps improve how you relate to other people
Also somehow related to emotional intelligence, but not quite, is the way you relate to other people. This, of course, doesn’t just mean how well you understand the feelings of those around you, but also how you position yourself in your relationships with them.
Since we already established that reading books can help you better understand your place in the world, it goes without saying that it also plays a role in improving the way you understand your relationships and how you should act to have better ones with the ones around you.
Being smart is a collection of aptitudes and this is one of them.
Reading activates and keeps parts of your brain engaged, improving its performance
Like I mentioned when I was describing the influence reading has on your memory, your brain can be seen as a muscle. Exercising can make it stronger and can help it perform better.
Studies have shown that reading helps activate the following areas in our brain:
- Medial Prefrontal Cortex
- Lateral Temporal Cortex
- Hippocampal Formation
- Posterior Cingulate Cortex
- Inferior Parietal Lobe
Having a “well-trained” brain has a plethora of benefits, both related to your mental health and to your mental abilities.
Along with a huge number of other benefits, ranging from stress relief, blood pressure decrease, slowing down mental decline in old age to prolonged life expectancy, reading also helps us become smarter people.
Not only does it provide us with essential knowledge, it also helps us keep our brains healthy and engaged, which makes us better functioning human beings.
And perhaps a bit surprisingly, reading apps can actually help us as well. Certain features they offer have a positive effect on how our brain works.
Basmo, for example, offers its users the option to save their favorite quotes from the books they read as images. This helps users visualize the quotes, which works wonders in memorizing them. As I mentioned before as well, the app also includes a feature that allows users to take notes while reading.
On top of this, since we now know that reading makes you smarter, it’s good to keep in mind how much Basmo can help you start and maintain healthy reading habits. You can set reading goals, setting yourself daily targets for time spent reading and it will even notify you whenever you are about to miss a reading session if you set reminders in the app.
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