Groundbreaking Study Shows: Early Reading Linked to Larger Brain Mass and Cognitive Development in Children

July 7th, 2023

By John Patterson

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

Reading for pleasure is not only a delightful activity but also a powerful tool that nurtures young minds and influences their long-term well-being. A groundbreaking study conducted by researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Warwick in the UK, along with Fudan University in China, has shed light on the profound impact of early reading on cognitive development and mental health.

The study, published in Psychological Medicine, examined over 10,000 young adolescents in the US, revealing remarkable findings that emphasize the significance of reading for pleasure during childhood.

Unveiling the Link Between Reading and Cognitive Abilities

The research team delved into the data provided by the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) cohort, which encompassed a diverse range of information including clinical interviews, cognitive tests, mental and behavioral assessments, and brain scans. By comparing participants who started reading for pleasure at an early age (between two and nine years old) with those who began later or did not engage in the activity at all, the researchers were able to discern a compelling connection.

The Power of Early Reading

The study discovered a strong association between early reading for pleasure and enhanced performance in cognitive tests during adolescence. Verbal learning, memory retention, speech development, and academic achievement were notably improved among those who cultivated a love for reading at a young age. Moreover, the children who were avid readers also exhibited better mental well-being, demonstrated by reduced stress, fewer signs of depression, improved attention spans, and fewer behavioral issues like aggression and rule-breaking.

Promoting Optimal Brain Structure

Intriguingly, the brain scans conducted on the adolescent cohort revealed remarkable disparities between those who began reading early and those who did not. The participants who engaged in reading for pleasure at an early age showcased moderately larger total brain areas and volumes, particularly in regions critical to cognitive functions. Furthermore, the brain regions associated with improved mental health, behavior, and attention were also more developed in this group.

Professor Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge emphasized,

Reading isn’t just a pleasurable experience; it inspires thinking and creativity, increases empathy, and reduces stress. Our findings demonstrate significant evidence linking reading to crucial developmental factors in children, improving cognition, mental health, and brain structure, which are the foundation for future learning and well-being.

The Optimal Amount of Reading

The study identified that approximately 12 hours of reading per week was the optimal amount for children. Beyond this threshold, the additional benefits plateaued, and a gradual decrease in cognitive abilities was observed.

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Researchers postulate that this decline could be attributed to excessive sedentary behavior, indicating less time spent on other cognitively enriching activities like sports and social interactions.

Encouraging Early Reading Habits

The implications of this study are clear: parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in instilling a love for reading in their children from an early age. By awakening the joy of reading, children not only experience pleasure and enjoyment but also facilitate their cognitive development and foster lifelong reading habits. The benefits of early reading are far-reaching, extending well into adulthood.

Professor Jianfeng Feng from Fudan University and the University of Warwick stated, “We encourage parents to do their best to awaken the joy of reading in their children at an early age. Done right, this will not only give them pleasure and enjoyment but will also help their development and encourage long-term reading habits, which may also prove beneficial into adult life.”


The study’s findings underline the critical role of reading for pleasure in shaping cognitive development and mental health outcomes in children. Engaging in this enriching activity from an early age positively influences cognitive abilities, fosters better mental well-being, and even contributes to the structural development of the brain. As we strive to provide our children with the best possible foundation for a fulfilling and successful future, instilling a love for reading emerges as a paramount endeavor. So, let us embrace the power of early reading, nurturing young minds with the wonders and possibilities that lie within the pages of books.


  1. Yun-Jun Sun, Barbara J. Sahakian, Christelle Langley, Anyi Yang, Yuchao Jiang, Jujiao Kang, Xingming Zhao, Chunhe Li, Wei Cheng, Jianfeng Feng. Early-initiated childhood reading for pleasure: associations with better cognitive performance, mental well-being and brain structure in young adolescencePsychological Medicine, 2023; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291723001381

About the author:

John Patterson is an avid writer and researcher who delves into the latest scientific research. With an insatiable curiosity, he translates complex concepts into accessible narratives, allowing readers to embark on a journey of discovery. Through his work, John bridges the gap between experts and the public, igniting curiosity and inspiring meaningful conversations about scientific breakthroughs.

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