Category: Reading

Children’s books still feature more male than female protagonists

By Emily Reynolds

There are many fields in which women are underrepresented: in certain areas of education and academia, in politics, and in senior leadership roles. Efforts have been made across sectors to improve this representation, as we’ve particularly covered in the case of STEM.

Unequal representation may start before the workplace or university, however — even before school. Exploring children’s literature, a new study in PLOS One from researchers at Princeton and Emory universities finds an overrepresentation of male protagonists in children’s books, potentially reinforcing damaging societal expectations for those of all genders.

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What Makes For A “Meaningful” Death In Fiction?

By Emily Reynolds

Death can be a powerful narrative tool. We sob over the demise of a beloved character, cheer at the comeuppance of our favourite villain, or sit at the edge of our seats, shocked at deaths we didn’t see coming. Red Wedding, anyone?

All deaths are not created equal, however, and in a new study Kaitlin Fitzgerald from the State University of New York and team look at what makes certain fictional deaths so memorable. The team reports that although we find some deaths pleasurable — the long-awaited downfall of an antagonist, for example — it’s those we find meaningful that truly stick with us in the long-term.

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Reading Between The Lines: Why Girls’ Superior Reading Skills May Be Lowering Their Future Salaries

Smiling and cheerful schoolgirls reading a book together at school

By guest blogger Louisa Lyon

In many countries, the proportion of girls opting to pursue careers in lucrative fields such as engineering and computer science has stagnated. Despite the best efforts of schools, universities and governments, women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called “STEM” subjects. The shortage of women is particularly acute in professions with a heavy focus on maths. But why?

A recent study in PNAS suggests that the answer may lie in differences in ability between boys and girls. But surprisingly, the ability in question is not maths, but reading. In a nutshell, girls who are good at maths tend to be even better at reading, and as a result, many turn away from maths and opt instead to pursue careers that utilise their even stronger language skills. By contrast, boys who are good at maths tend not to show this same advantage in reading, making their decision to stick with STEM subjects much more straightforward.

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Our Brains Represent The Meaning Of Words the Same Way Whether We Read Them Or Hear Them

Enjoying the music and reading a book

By Emma Young

In an era of TED talks, podcasts, and audiobooks, it’s easy to choose to listen to factual information or fiction, rather than to read it. But is that a good thing? Are there any differences in the way the brain processes the meaning of words that are heard rather than read? According to the researchers behind a thorough new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the answer to this last question is “no”. But it may still be too soon to conclude that listening to an audiobook is effectively the same as reading it.

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Most Comprehensive Review To Date Finds The Average Person’s Reading Speed Is Slower Than Previously Thought

giphyBy Matthew Warren

You should take just under two-and-a-half minutes to finish reading this blog post. That’s going by the findings of a new review, which has looked at almost 200 studies of reading rates published over the past century to come up with an overall estimate for how quickly we read. And it turns out that that rate is considerably slower than commonly thought.

Of the various estimates of average reading speed bandied around over the years, one of the most commonly cited is 300 words per minute (wpm). However, a number of findings of slower reading rates challenge that statistic, notes Marc Brysbaert from Ghent University in Belgium in his new paper released as a preprint on PsyArxiv. 

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Here’s a clever demonstration of how we simulate the mental experiences of story characters

GettyImages-629579800.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Avid readers of novels know that they often take the perspective of the characters they read about. But just how far does this mental role-playing go? A new paper in the Journal of Memory and Language has provided a clever demonstration of how readily we simulate the thoughts of fictional characters. Borrowing a method from research into the psychology of deliberate forgetting, the researchers at Binghamton University, USA, show that when a story character needs to focus on remembering one series of words rather than another, the reader simulates this same memory process in their own minds. The character’s mental experience becomes the reader’s mental experience.

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New findings suggest it might be better to read toddlers an e-book than a print book

Mother and daughter using a digital tablet at bedtimeBy Emma Young

Reading with a young child is important for their language development and early literacy skills. But does it matter if you read from an electronic book (e-book) or traditional print? As any parent knows, toddlers are generally keen on screens. So the finding, from a new study in Frontiers in Psychology, that very young children enjoy e-books more than print picture books, may not come as a huge surprise – but these additional findings might: both parents and toddlers behaved differently when reading electronic vs. print picture books. And the toddlers who read the e-books learned more.

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Three labs just failed to replicate the finding that a quick read of literary fiction boosts your empathy

Book charging brain concept 3d illustration on gradient backgrowBy Alex Fradera

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” So said Joyce Carol Oates, and many more of us suspect that reading good fiction gives us insight into other people.

Past research backs this up, for example providing evidence that people with a long history of reading tend to be better at judging the mental states of others. But this work has always been open to the explanation that sensitive people are drawn to books, rather than books making people more sensitive. However in 2013 a study came along that appeared to change the game: researchers David Kidd and Emanuele Castano showed that exposure to a single passage of literary fiction actually improved readers’ ability to identify other people’s feelings.

This finding sent ripples through popular media, even prompting some to suggest strategies for everyday life like leafing through a book before you go on a date. But since then, as is the usual pattern in psychology these days, a struggle has ensued to establish the robustness of the eye-catching 2013 result. Continue reading “Three labs just failed to replicate the finding that a quick read of literary fiction boosts your empathy”

More evidence that literary, but not pop, fiction boosts readers’ emotional skills

Shopping
Image via Flickr/VisitBritain

By Christian Jarrett

Three years ago, a pair of psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York attracted worldwide interest and controversy when they reported in the prestigious journal Science that reading just a few pages of literary fiction boosted research participants’ recognition of other people’s emotions, but that reading pop fiction (also known as genre fiction) did not. Now the same researchers have returned with a new paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts that’s used a different approach to arrive at the same conclusion – again, reading literary fiction, but not genre fiction, appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. Continue reading “More evidence that literary, but not pop, fiction boosts readers’ emotional skills”

You hear a voice in your head when you’re reading, right?

As you’re reading this blog post silently to yourself, do you hear an inner voice speaking the words in your head? A new paper published in Psychosis suggests that most people do hear an internal voice when they’re reading. But as this is one of the first ever investigations into the question, and it used an unconventional methodology, it’s fair to say the results are far from conclusive.

Ruvanee Vilhauer at New York University took advantage of questions about the phenomenon posted on Yahoo! Answers, the largest English language Q&A website in the world (where people post questions and members of the community chip in with their answers). She found 24 relevant questions posed between 2006 and 2014, and 136 answers in which people described their own experiences when reading.

Vilhauer analysed all the relevant content and looked for recurring themes and insights. Overall, the vast majority (82.5 per cent) of contributors said that they did hear an inner voice when reading to themselves, 10.6 per cent said they didn’t, and the status of the remaining contributors was unclear. Of those who said they heard an inner voice, 13 per cent said they did so only sometimes, with various factors tending to increase the likelihood of this happening, such as their interest in the text.

Among the contributors with an internal reading voice, another key theme was whether or not they only ever heard the same voice (this was true for about half of them) or a range of different voices. For those who heard different inner voices, these tended to vary based on the voice of the character who was speaking in a story, or if it was a text message or email, on the voice of the sender. For people who only ever heard the same internal reading voice, this was usually their own voice, but it was often different in some way from their speaking voice, for example in terms of pitch or emotional tone. Some contributors described or implied that their inner reading voice was just the same as the inner voice they used for thoughts.

Nearly all those who said they had an inner reading voice or voices referred to it being “audible” in some way, for example they spoke of its volume or depth or accent. Another issue that came up was the controllability of the inner reading voice. Some contributors spoke of the voice as distracting or even scary, while others said they deliberately chose the voice they used. You can see why this paper was published in the journal Psychosis. Indeed, Vilhauer said that the insights from her analysis provided some support for theories that say auditory hallucinations are inner voices that are incorrectly identified as not belonging to the self.

Why has this topic been largely overlooked before now (although check out these studies from 2011, and Charles Fernyhough’s forthcoming book The Voices Within)? Vilhauer’s study hints at an answer because she found that many people assumed that their inner experiences when reading were shared by everyone. This worked both ways, so some of the people who had an inner reading voice were convinced of its normality: “We all hear our voices in our heads at times – even those of others we know – especially while reading,” said one Yahoo contributor. Yet others who claimed to have no inner voice felt they were the normal ones. For example, in response to a question posted on the site about whether anyone else hears an inner voice while reading, one responder said “Nooo. You should get that checked out” and another wrote, in capitals: “NO, I’M NOT A FREAK”.

Vilhauer speculates that perhaps psychologists have failed to study this question because they’ve simply assumed, like many of the Yahoo contributors, that there’s no variability in this and everyone has the same reading experience as they do.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Vilhauer, R. (2016). Inner reading voices: An overlooked form of inner speech Psychosis, 8 (1), 37-47 DOI: 10.1080/17522439.2015.1028972

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

further reading
The science of how we talk to ourselves in our heads
A preliminary taxonomy of the voices inside your head
‘Don’t do it!’ – how your inner voice really does aid self-control