A new study published in the journal Child Development finds that having strong reading skills as a child is a predictor for higher intelligence levels as a young adult.
Written by David McNamee
In previous studies, reading ability has been associated with improved health, education, socioeconomic status and creativity. The ability to read well can directly improve some of these factors. An example is that by being able to extract information from texts, individuals are better able to gain educational qualifications.
But some researchers have suggested that the act of reading has “a causal effect on more general cognitive abilities” that are associated with better life outcomes.
In short: reading itself may boost intelligence.
Other studies, however, suggest that there may instead be a shared genetic basis for reading and cognition. It is also possible that keen reading in children may reflect knowledge-seeking behavior rather than necessarily reading skill in itself, which could confound results.
To investigate the issue further, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and King’s College London, both in the UK, compared the results of reading and intelligence tests from nearly 2,000 pairs of identical twins who were part of the Twins Early Development Study.
The tests were taken by the twins at the ages of 7, 9, 10, 12 and 16.
Twins were used because they are genetically identical – and in this study, the twin participants were also brought up in the same family environments – which allowed the researchers to isolate any differences that might be due to experiences not shared by the twins. Examples of this kind of non-shared experience might include having a particularly inspiring teacher or a friend who encourages reading.
The researchers found that twins with better early reading ability than their identical sibling would not only remain better at reading as they grew older, but would also score higher than their twin on general intelligence tests.
What is more, early reading ability was not just associated with improved vocabulary and general knowledge, but also with improved nonverbal intelligence.
“It’s not too surprising that being better at reading might improve your vocabulary,” lead author Stuart Ritchie told Medical News Today, “but it is more surprising that there were effects on nonverbal intelligence.”
“It’s possible that reading helps train children to use abstract thinking, as they have to imagine other people, places, and things while reading. This would be helpful in more general problem-solving tasks, such as those on IQ tests. Also, being better at reading might involve more practice of sitting down and concentrating on a task, which again would be useful for intelligence test performance.”