Three Fascinating Facts About Reading

Reading is a sophisticated ability that not only makes us smarter, it also makes us happier. Indeed, no one is the same once they've found themselves hooked on a good book.
Three Fascinating Facts About Reading

Last update: 18 May, 2022

Reading is an amazing act. Furthermore, as humans, we’re the only species that’s developed this ability, which goes hand in hand with writing. It’s a profound capacity that shows the great evolution of our brain.

One of the most striking aspects of reading is that it changes the brain. This is confirmed by the neurobiologist, Francisco Mora in his book, Neuroeducacion y lectura (Neuroeducation and Reading). He claims that there’s evidence that, particularly in children, reading changes brain anatomy and physiology.

However, it doesn’t stop there. As a matter of fact, we don’t only change because of our lived experiences, but also because of what we’ve read. Indeed, it could be said that reading is the kind of experience that sometimes leaves even deeper traces than ‘real’ experiences do. Let’s take a look at some other surprising facts about reading.

“The person who doesn’t read only lives one life. The reader lives 5000. Reading is immortality backwards.”

-Umberto Eco-

1. Reading is an artificial process

Woman reading in the field
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust is the longest book in the world.

One of the most surprising facts about reading is that it’s an artificial process. Let’s explain. As humans, we’re all born with the brain circuits of spoken language. This means that speech develops naturally in everyone. The only condition is that, as babies, we’re spoken to. Other than that, not much else is needed.

In contrast, reading isn’t innately present in humans. In other words, this ability isn’t genetically encoded. Each person must go through the process of acquiring it. This requires hard learning and memory work, which has varying degrees of difficulty for each human being.

Furthermore, it must be taken into account that spoken language is actually quite a new process in human evolution. In fact, it only appeared about two or three million years ago. However, reading is only about 6,000 years old. It may seem like a long time but, viewed from a historical context, it’s just the blink of an eye.

2. It’s best to learn to read at the age of seven

There are many children who find the task of learning to read demanding. Although each child is different, the truth is that some areas of the brain need to mature enough for them to properly develop reading skills.

According to science, ideally, children should learn to read at the age of seven. That’s because, at this age, their brains are prepared to carry out the activity with some fluency. In addition, the children are old enough to find the activity pleasurable and entertaining.

However, it’s possible and frequent for children to learn to read before this age. Nevertheless, at this earlier stage in life, it’ll likely prove to be more of a chore than an interesting skill. There are also many children who fail to read correctly at an early age. There’s nothing wrong with them. They just have to wait a bit. In Finland, one of the most advanced countries in education, children don’t learn to read until the age of seven.

It’s important to note that reading isn’t simply the decoding of written language. It also assumes the ability to understand and decipher meanings. As a matter of fact, we spend our entire lives trying to read more efficiently.

3. The Internet reduces our reading ability

Woman reading on computer
Texts read digitally are less well fixed in memory than those read on paper.

The Internet has changed many things. Among them, is our way of reading. In the virtual world, there are an enormous number of texts, and a good part of the actions carried out in this space requires the ability to read and write. That said, we don’t read and write on the Internet as we would in a face-to-face environment.

One of the big differences, in terms of reading, is our attention process. In the physical world, reading involves employing a type of attention known as ‘executive’. It’s a calm and sustained kind of attention. There’s no great hurry and we apply it intensively to the pages of a book. On the other hand, reading on the Internet tends to be more transversal. We want to read only the main ideas and not the whole text.

These are just three interesting facts about reading, an activity that ultimately makes us smarter and more capable. Indeed, what we read both changes and transforms us. As a matter of fact, in many cases, it also reconciles us with humanity and our communicative processes.

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  • Herrera, V. (2018). Bases neurológicas del lenguaje hablado y signado. Revista Chilena De Fonoaudiología7(2), 59–71. https://doi.org/10.5354/0719-4692.2006.48355
  • Román, M. (2006). El Desafio de aprender a leer, comprender y razonar en escuelas vulnerables. Pensamiento Educativo, Revista De Investigación Latinoamericana (PEL)39(2), 69–86. Recuperado a partir de http://www.cuadernos.info/index.php/pel/article/view/23855
  • Zuleta, E. (1991). La lectura. Sociología: Revista de la Facultad de Sociología de Unaula, 7-15.