We have long believed in the benefits of reading over watching TV. Yet for many people, watching TV is their go-to activity for relaxation and entertainment, leaving little time to read books.
If you struggle with reading, then watching TV can certainly seem a lot easier. It certainly feels like a passive activity, requiring little effort from us but to relax. But what benefits are you missing out on by not reading? And what specifically are the benefits of reading compared to watching television or movies?
To help you understand the why reading has more benefit than watching tv, we will step through our 10 benefits of reading and compare them to TV.
1. Develop Verbal Abilities
Even though TV is mostly dialogue, books are better than television at increasing your vocabulary. So why is reading better for your vocabulary? TV typically uses short and simple sentences, pitched at a fourth grade level.
Good children’s books however, typically contain language twice as complex as a tv show. This means using a greater range of vocabulary, longer sentences and more complex sentences. Adult novels and especially newspapers can step up the benefits again, with even richer and more varied language.
A paper on What Reading Does for the Mind stated that reading volume contributed directly to vocabulary knowledge in fourth to sixth grade children. Author Anne Cunningahm of Berkeley concludes that reading can build verbal (and other) abilities in children regardless of academic achievement levels.
Better verbal abilities also translate to better writing skills which is important in many jobs.
2. Develop Focus And Concentration
This benefit of reading is one that TV actually damages. TV actively develops short concentration habits leading to poor focus. TV shows are made up of short ‘scenes’ between advertisement breaks. Most scenes in shows are fast paced, high action, with constantly changing camera angles. We call this the “Sesame Street syndrome” as that show changes more frequently than average.
Rapid changes are designed to stop people hitting the remote button and switching stations. So watchers of television tend to develop a short attention span or lack of focus. If you also multitask when watching TV your lack of focus gets even worse. You probably multitask because you are not fully engaged in the experience and not using mental muscles.
Books,on the other hand, develop focus and concentration skills as they engage and hold the reader’s attention. This is exercise for our focus and thinking muscles. We don’t usually take a break from reading every few minutes. In fact, we rarely do other things at the same time as reading. Sometimes we are so focused on our reading we are barely aware of the world around us at all. Sound familiar?
3. Readers Enjoy The Arts
Studies have shown that readers tend to enjoy concerts, plays and museums more than non-readers. We haven’t found any studies on this compared to TV watchers, but again, the skills of concentration and focus are needed to enjoy the Arts. Skills watching TV do not seem to help.
4. Improve Your Imagination
A Los Angeles County study showed children produced less imaginative responses after watching a film, compared to listening to a story. When we read (or just listen) we have to create a vision of everything in our mind. We use our imagination to craft the world and events described in the book. This exercise stimulates many functions of the brain.
In comparison a TV show provides the full visual image for us, and eliminates any background information or musings by the characters. We turn off our imagination and receive the story as imagined by the director.
This is one reason we never think the movie is as good as the book. We imagined it differently to the director so it doesn’t match our experience. Who hasn’t seen the outcries then the cast of the latest book to movie project is announced. Each reader has their own vision and the selection of a particular actor can polarize the book community who see it quite differently.
5. Watching TV Can Lower Your IQ
Some television programs do provide great educational input. We love National Geographic as much as the next person. But more often a tv show requires little to no input or thinking by the viewer. We admit it, this is one of the attractions of television on occasion.
Trouble is, a Japanese study in 2013 found watching tv actually lowered the IQ of children. In contrast, a recent study by Emory University found reading novels created heightened connectivity in the brain for up to five days after reading. Connectivity in the brain translates to getting smarter over time. So reading can make you smarter.
6. Be Interesting And Attractive
Reading is not generally seen as a social activity. Yet reading can have great impact on how we react in social situations. Reading develops better verbal and empathy skills (see below). Better empathy, verbal skills, and knowledge makes readers more interesting and attractive people.
Watching TV is a basically antisocial experience. Especially for young children compared to being read a story by a parent or grandparent. Reading aloud together is an interactive process especially important for the development of young children.
Then for straight out social events, there are book clubs. Social events just to discuss books. We cant imagine a “[fill in you favorite show] TV club” to discuss the latest episode. Can you?
7. Reading Is Best At Reducing Stress
Reading has been shown to reduce stress in just six minutes! Research shows reading works faster and better than listening to music, drinking coffee or even taking a walk. TV might feel like it relaxes your body, but another study showed television can amplify stress because we frequently feel guilty or like a failure afterwards.
8. Effects On Memory: Reading Vs Television
Readers have to remember the plot line and any subplots; what the hero or heroine looked like; who they’ve met and many other details to make the story coherent and enjoyable. Reading a book series can increase that mental exercise.
In comparison, TV eliminates much of the extra inputs and provides a visual feed instead. The typically simple plots limit the variables a watcher needs to remember. After all, you can only fit a limited story into a 30-50 minute ‘episode’. And TV shows typically provide a recap after every break. So TV shows tend to contain very surface level characters & ideas. They rarely involve complex situations or ideas as there just isn’t time. Even longer formats such as movies typically have to leave out large chunks of plots or even whole characters (does anyone else miss Peeves in the Harry Potter movies).
Active mental stimulation like reading slows down the rate of memory loss a 2012 study has shown. And Alzheimers is 2.5 times less common in elderly people who read regularly.
9. Self Discovery: Love And Empathy
Research is showing that the excessive violence on TV through news, or just television shows is overpowering both children and adults. This bombardment desensitises our abilities to feel sympathy or empathy with those suffering. Reduced empathy has been shown to significantly contribute to aggressive behaviour.
When we read, we can identify with characters and their thoughts – we can be the hero who solves the mystery, the kick ass vampire heroine who finds herself, and a million other characters. Reading allows us to experience emotions in a safe environment, without ongoing obligations. This has been shown to develop our empathy and understanding.
At a higher level, reading requires us to attribute the mental state of a character to that character – called Theory of Mind. Sometimes described a ‘putting yourself in another’s shoes’. We rarely get insight into characters thoughts in TV. Emotions have to be kept simple and acted out clearly for watchers to follow.
10. TV Is Entertaining Too
Perhaps this benefit of reading is shared with watching TV. We can laugh and cry with a good book or a good movie.
We are not saying don’t watch television if you want some entertainment. Just remember, many benefits of reading are already proven by science. Reading benefits our brains. And unfortunately, the research is suggesting that tv watching has few if any benefits, and is not so good for us in general. So keep reading as well.
Clear Benefits Of Reading Versus Watching TV
Ultimately, TV is a passive activity, reading is mentally active. You simply sit and let a television show unfold with your brain on receive.
Reading is exercise for the brain. Like exercise develops the body, reading develops the brain in many different ways. As the saying goes, if you don’t use it you lose it. So reading is important and the benefits of reading over watching TV are proven.