What Does Watching TV vs. Reading a Good Book Do to Your Brain?

If you had to calculate how much time per day you spend watching TV vs. reading a book, what would your totals be? No fudging the numbers! If you’re like most of America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014 report, people over 15 watch an average of 2.5 hours of TV per day during the workweek, while only reading for leisure about a half hour.

While surfing the web and otherwise being glued to smartphones also takes up a considerable amount of leisure time, there are more and more ways to get one’s fill of their favorite shows nowadays. Yet, it’s estimated that 42 percent of college graduates will never read another book after they finish their degrees. That’s a long life of missing out on (literal) page-turners.

Are there scientific reasons as to why putting down the remote and picking up a book may be better for your health? A Japanese study earlier this year found that TV watching actually can alter the composition of your brain. Studying 276 children and teens led to the discovery that higher amounts of time in front of the tube increased frontal lobe grey matter, yet lowered verbal IQ.

Another study, however, discovered lasting positive results from reading a novel. They performed MRIs to college students before, during and after reading a novel and found increased connectivity in the parts of the brain responsible for language receptivity—so much so that the heightened connectivity was retained days later, much like “muscle memory.”

Dr. Gregory Berns, of the Emory University study, stated, “At a minimum, we can say that reading stories—especially those with strong narrative arcs—reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.” Pretty profound, indeed.

What else can reading do for the mind? A study at the University of Sussex found that participants who were stressed needed only six minutes of reading for their heart rates and muscle tension to subside. Six minutes! Overall, reading reduced stress levels by 68 percent, closely followed by listening to music (61 percent), drinking coffee (54 percent) and taking a walk (42 percent). Dr. David Lewis describes the effect, “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”

With most 15-19 year-olds only reading 9 minutes per day (compared to 2.6 hours of TV) and 75 and older folks reading an hour per day (yet, 4.4 daily hours of TV), perhaps tipping the scale toward paperbacks could make a big dent in our overall stress levels. Sure, unplugging from the day in front of the tube can feel like it’s just what we need, but what if we really unplugged and, instead, picked up a good book? With websites such as Good Reads and What Should I Read Next? on our sides, this can become a (non-virtual) reality.

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252 comments

Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a month ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a month ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

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Jessica K
Jessica Kabout a month ago

I agree with the concept that reading is a great idea, but disagree with the suggestion that social media is unilaterally bad for you. If one reads an article all the way through rather than skimming, it may not be all that bad. After all, many people read books on a Kindle or some other tablet, so the medium would be similar. Thanks.

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Jeff Idso
Jeff Idsoabout a month ago

As a child I read almost every book in the library and now I never read. So sad that busy work overtakes quality brain time. Although I do read a lot on my computer.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE2 months ago

I love reading.

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Philippa P
Philippa Powers2 months ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S2 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Noted.

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