Can Reading Improve Your Memory?

By Madelaine Romero - June 4, 2023
Can Reading Improve Your Memory?

There are a lot of ways to enjoy a great story, including reading the book, listening to it as an audiobook, and watching the movie. Which way stimulates your brain more and helps improve memory? According to North Central University researchers, reading is the best choice to slow brain decline and improve your memory.

Scientists have determined that reading is more neurobiologically demanding than listening to speech or watching images. This means it takes more physical brain work to read, causing people to build new connections and strengthening existing connections in their brains. 

Researchers at Yale and other universities found that reading:

•   Requires the brain to make inferences

•   Helps the brain construct narrative and images

•   Exercises memory to learn and recall words and plots

•   Improves focus

•   Allows the brain to pause

When you read, your brain doesn’t have visual or audio clues to put the story into context. In order to understand what you are reading; your brain needs to make inferences about what the words are saying and what they mean. As you read, your brain builds the story, remembering the words you’ve already read. Reading also requires your brain to construct images to match the words, using your memory of previous experiences to give the words meaning.

Articles and books are filled with hundreds and thousands of words. Each time you read a word, your memory is tested to recall the word’s meaning, or your memory builds a new connection to give meaning to a new word. Reading exercises both your long-term and short-term memory storage by helping you remember and add words.

Reading a book usually takes longer than watching a movie. Remembering the plot of a book requires keeping the memory of the story active in your brain longer. Books in a series help exercise your brain’s memory from book to book, unlike binge-watching TV show episodes or having a movie night marathon.

Reading requires concentration. Without the visual and audio clues of movies, readers need to focus on the words to understand and remember the story. Building focus improves memory by teaching the brain to avoid distractions and concentrate on learning and memory.

While speed reading is a popular way to up your reading intake, most readers prefer to read at their own pace. Reading allows the brain to pause and absorb the word, context, and story. The more input your brain records about a situation, the stronger the memory will be. Reading trains, the brain to build memories that will last. This helps your brain build strong memories throughout life, not only when you read.

Scientists have found evidence that reading protects the brain from memory decline as people age. In one study, researchers followed 300 adults for six years, testing their memory each year. Participants recorded how much they read, both before the study and during the six-year period. 

After the participants died, the researchers examined their brains for physical signs of dementia, including lesions, plaques, and neural tangles, the brain abnormalities often associated with memory lapses. 

The participants who reported they read were protected from the physical signs of memory loss in their brains. They also reported 70% less memory loss during the study than those who didn’t read regularly. Reading makes a difference physically and mentally and helps preserve memory.

In Psychology Today magazine, doctors share how reading is a simulation, or practice for the physical world. They believe that reading allows the brain to work through multiple scenarios in stories and then apply them to real-life experiences. This form of mental practice can help people retain memories by allowing them to experience them numerous times while reading, making memories more accessible throughout life.

Can reading improve your memory? Science has found multiple benefits of reading, including protecting you from memory loss. The mental and physical changes that reading provides can help you improve your memory. 

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