Reading during childhood promotes mental health into adulthood

Childhood is a crucial period for neurological development. Reading not only brings joy, but also has decisive effects on cognition, and brain structure.

Reading has an important function for young people's development

Reading is an acquired skill that is obtained through constant practice over many years. In its step-by-step systematic instruction, this skill continues to develop. With well-illustrated reading material, the joy of reading can be awakened in the early stages of life. This joy promotes cognitive phonological and orthographic reading processes and awakens the thirst for knowledge in young people.

In this way, they learn to enjoy acquiring knowledge. This process supports the development of long-term reading habits. There is ample scientific data on the benefits of early reading activities for later advanced reading and language skills.1

Childhood: a crucial development phase for the brain

Neuroimaging has shown that the growth of the cerebral cortex surface and the volume of grey matter is greatest at the age of 2 years. Even at this young age, 80% of the adult size is reached. The milestones of cognitive development are characterised by early brain maturation. Regions responsible for sensory and motor systems mature first. This is followed by areas responsible for basic language and spatial attention functions.

The peak of this development process is reached at 9 months after birth. The development of language skills continues until late childhood. At the very end, the prefrontal and lateral temporal cortex finally mature. These are responsible for the modulation of language and attention.1

The positive effects of reading in childhood can be shown with neuroimaging 

The Cambridge University research group was able to make concrete observations after analysing their large-scale study. They found that the early onset of long-term reading in childhood correlated with:

Reading for pleasure in childhood was associated with a moderate increase in cortical areas and volumes. The temporal, frontal, supramarginal, left angular, parahippocampal, right middle occipital, anterior cingulate cortex, orbital & insular regions, as well as the thalamus and diencephalon were enlarged. The researchers were able to observe a significant correlation between the enlargement of these brain areas and the cognitive and mental health values of children and adolescents.

A total reading time of 12 hours/week was optimal. MR analyses revealed positive causal relationships between early reading for pleasure and the development of the upper left temporal lobe. There was a positive correlation between these measurement results and cognitive performance in adulthood.1

Books instead of screens for a better future

Children and young people should be encouraged to enjoy reading, especially in these times dominated by streaming services and video games. Reading books not only stimulates thinking and creativity, it also helps to reduce stress and promotes empathy in young people as they grow up. It has been scientifically proven that reading in childhood can promote brain structure, cognition and mental well-being.1

  1. Sun YJ. et al. (2023). Early-initiated childhood reading for pleasure: associations with better cognitive performance, mental well-being and brain structure in young adolescence. Psychol Med. 2023 Jun 28:1-15.