Even new parents know how valuable reading to their children can be— pediatricians and education officials recommend it be a regular habit in every family household. Now modern medical technology is allowing scientists to see exactly how reading can benefit brain development.
The study, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, is the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to prove reading exposure prior to kindergarten has a measurable impact on how a child’s brain processes stories. There is no previous direct evidence of reading’s effects on the brain.
The study was conducted with 19 children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old, whose guardians completed surveys designed to measure cognitive stimulation at home. Included in the survey were questions about parent-child reading, access to books, reading frequency and book variety, parent-child interaction, and teaching of specific skills like counting or shapes. Thirty-seven percent of the participants were from low-income households.
The children’s brain activity was measured while listening to a story on headphones during an fMRI. There was no visual stimulus or sedative involved.