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Reading for pleasure builds empathy and improves wellbeing, research from The Reading Agency finds

There is strong evidence that reading for pleasure can increase empathy, improve relationships with others, reduce the symptoms of depression and the risk of dementia, and improve wellbeing throughout life, new research carried out for The Reading Agency has found.

The report, conducted by BOP Consulting and funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation, brings together a strong and growing body of research that shows how and why reading for pleasure can bring a range of other benefits to individuals and society. There is already strong evidence to show that reading for pleasure plays a vital role in improving educational outcomes. However, in the UK, reading levels are low among people of all ages: most children do not read on a daily basis and almost a third of adults don’t read for pleasure.

The findings

‘The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment’ surveys research into the effects of reading for pleasure on people of a range of age groups and requirements. Among the benefits it finds are improved social capital for children, young people and the general adult population; better parent-child communication and reduction of depression and dementia symptoms among adults.

Another key finding of the report is that enjoyment of reading is a prerequisite for all these positive outcomes: people who choose to read, and enjoy doing so, in their spare time are more likely to reap all of these benefits.

The report is the first stage of a broader project which has been generously funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation and which is being developed through strong partnerships with reading charities, public libraries and education organisations. The long term goal is to create a robust reading outcomes framework which will enable the organisations to evaluate the impact of their work. It will be used to drive improvement, build understanding about the benefits of reading and broaden the reach of reading programmes.

“Reading for pleasure has a dramatic impact on life outcomes”

Author Phillip Pullman is President of the Society of Authors, one of the organisations involved in the project, says:

“I agree whole-heartedly with what this report is saying about the importance of reading for pleasure. When I write a story I hope to beguile, to enchant, to bewitch, to perform an act of magic on and with my readers’ imaginations. The writer Samuel Johnson apparently didn’t say this, but someone did, and it remains true: ‘The true aim of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it’.”

Sue Wilkinson, CEO of The Reading Agency, says:

“The findings of this report have made for fascinating reading and we are very grateful to the Peter Sowerby Foundation for funding this work. At The Reading Agency we believe that everything changes when we read; this report identifies what that change looks like for different audiences. We are all looking forward to using the results to help us to plan the next stage of this ambitious programme of work.”

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust, says:

“Reading for enjoyment is an important fulfilment of the literacy skills which the National Literacy Trust is working hard to increase. This report provides a solid foundation from which we can build a new and objective framework to understand how literacy transforms lives and can make society stronger, more successful and more equal. It is great to be working on this project with The Reading Agency. Together we can grow the literacy skills and also create the reading opportunities that will genuinely create social change.”

Diana Gerald, CEO of Book Trust, says:

“It is no surprise to us that reading for pleasure improves wellbeing and builds empathy and we were delighted to work with The Reading Agency to commission this valuable research. We know that reading for pleasure has a dramatic impact on life outcomes – and this is as much about confidence and wellbeing as it is about educational achievements. Quite simply, children who read for pleasure are happier, healthier and do better in life than those who don’t, which is why Book Trust works tirelessly to inspire a love of reading in children through its book-gifting programmes, and to champion the benefits of reading for pleasure to politicians, educators, professionals and parents.”

Read The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment


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