Does reading make you smarter?


Excerpts from Dr. Keith Stanovich: Matthew Effects – Does Reading Make you Smarter?

The idea of cumulative advantage and disadvantage effects in a developmental model of reading.  You have well developed phonemic representations, hence you struggle less with the code, and your phonological decoding is good so you recognize words well, very early in your reading experience.  If you recognize words very well you have a lot of capacity left over for the high level comprehension processes we were just talking about.  If you have a lot of capacity for those, stories are interesting because you are thinking about them and the stories are interesting so you read more, and you read more and develop more of those decoding processes.  And then interestingly, what developed in the Matthew Effects paper, even when, let’s say you get to further stages of reading where decoding processes are asymptoting and other types of high level inferential processes are coming online, well you have a built in advantage there because all this reading you have been doing has been building declarative knowledge, it’s been building lexical distinctions, it’s been building vocabulary, all of the things that you are going to need let’s say post 4th grade as well.

There are 2 really separable domains of intelligence: the so-called fluid intelligence: abstract problem solving, and the so-called crystallized intelligence: declarative knowledge, vocabulary, lexical distinctions, verbal facility.

Now since the Matthew Effecst paper, since some of the work that our group has done and many other groups on the effects of reading, the effects of exposure to print, crystalized intelligence is just massively built by reading itself, independent of education, independent of fluid intelligence. Regardless of what your levels of abstract problem solving are, you build declarative knowledge, you build lexical distinctions with reading, and reading is uniquely efficacious.

If crystalized knowledge is part of your concept of intelligence, and it is for 90% of the theorists out there, then in fact, reading does make you smarter.


Please note:

The Matthew Effects paper was written in 1986 prior to the widespread use of tools that are now capable of reading print aloud.  Reading in this sense encompasses all forms of reading, whether by eyes, ears, or fingers (braille).   The point of the video is that there is a difference between our everyday speaking vocabulary and the vocabulary we are exposed to through “print”.  Through print, not only  are we exposed to a significantly richer vocabulary as well as more complex sentence structures which enhances our overall language ability, but we are also exposed to concepts which build upon our existing knowledge base.


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