Thursday, September 15, 2016

Association of book Reading With Longevity

A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity

 Strange as it may seem, there is good empirical evidence that reading novels prolongs life. Consider this study by epidemiologists at Yale University, published in Social Science & Medicine.

Book reading provides a survival advantage among the elderly (HR = 0.80, p < 0.0001).

Books are more advantageous for survival than newspapers/magazines.

The survival advantage of reading books works through a cognitive mediator.

Books are protective regardless of gender, wealth, education, or health.
Although books can expose people to new people and places, whether books also have health benefits beyond other types of reading materials is not known. This study examined whether those who read books have a survival advantage over those who do not read books and over those who read other types of materials, and if so, whether cognition mediates this book reading effect.

The cohort consisted of 3635 participants in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study who provided information about their reading patterns at baseline.

Cox proportional hazards models were based on survival information up to 12 years after baseline. A dose-response survival advantage was found for book reading by tertile (HRT2 = 0.83, p < 0.001, HRT3 = 0.77, p < 0.001), after adjusting for relevant covariates including age, sex, race, education, comorbidities, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression.

Book reading contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines (tT2 = 90.6, p < 0.001; tT3 = 67.9, p < 0.001). Compared to non-book readers, book readers had a 23-month survival advantage at the point of 80% survival in the unadjusted model. A survival advantage persisted after adjustment for all covariates (HR = .80, p < .01), indicating book readers experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers.

Cognition mediated the book reading-survival advantage (p = 0.04). These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.
Why Reading Literature Matters for Psychologists.

An article in the Washington Post today by Christopher Ingraham makes the point that there is a long slow decline of novel reading in this country. It argues that novel reading is important because it increases the empathy in its readers.  This is a belief I have shared with my psychology students for many years.

Gustavo Flaubert's novel about a doctor's wife who commits adulterous affairs then commits suicide to avoid the banalities of rural life is a story that teaches much about the way an individual life transpires in an environment that is both loveless and boring. I often suggested this and other writers as important for psychologists trying to learn how to piece together the life story of their patients. Getting a person's real life story is the essence of "diagnosis" which is an art best taught by artists.

Qualities of compassion and empathy are shaped in ways not easily taught better than under the microscope of the novelist. Whether Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky or Sylvia Plath, the complex nature of the human story is absorbed by the reader and built into their cognitive and emotional understanding.

The same argument applies to poetry which can teach skills and emotions valuable to a psychotherapist, physician, nurse or anyone whose life enriches others. But this form of teaching has to do with emotional growth at a subtle level, which is why many programs for physicians--not just psychiatrists--recommend a background in humanistic and artistic studies.

As a patient there is an immediate connection with a primary care doctor who projects empathy at an automatic and unconscious level. Humans are remarkably astute at recognizing genuine empathy vs machine-like behavior.

It seems plausible that increasing levels of strife and conflict at the national and world level may also reflect the decline of empathy.