How Reading Slowly (Real Books, Not Twitter) Cuts Stress

A “slow reading” movement touts the benefits of unplugged reading time, and the detriments of skimming the Internet.


Before the dawn of the Internet, it was unlikely that while trying to read, you’d be confronted all in the same second with a blinking ad for belly fat removal, a message from an ex, and a button imploring you to share whatever you’re reading with friends. There have never been more distractions keeping us from sitting down with a book for hours, and it’s true that American reading habits have declined in recent years. Even when we do pick up a book, we’re probably trying to speed read.


In reaction to all this, an emerging “slow reading” movement urges taking 30 to 45 minutes a day to consciously unplug and sit down with a book (a Wi-Fi-disconnected e-book suffices), and to read, without pausing to check social media, without texting, in a quiet environment, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Flickr user Erich Ferdinand

It might sound like Ludditism, but it’s not just based on nostalgia for the pre-Internet age. Various studies reveal both the benefits of slow, focused reading and the detriments of reading too much on the distraction machine that is the web. Reports the Wall Street Journal:

A study of 300 elderly people published by the journal Neurology last year showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading, slowed rates of memory loss in participants’ later years… A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships. A piece of research published in Developmental Psychology in 1997 showed first-grade reading ability was closely linked to 11th-grade academic achievements.

On the other hand, scrolling up and down through web pages, especially when they’re filled with links and images (yes, like this one), results in lower comprehension than reading plain text:


One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom . . . Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

To combat digitally-induced mental clutter, “slow readers” are starting groups in cities around the country, hosting “silent reading parties,” often with wine and classical music. Of course, you don’t need a special group or a party to simply sit down with a book, but the structure adds a social element to what’s usually a solitary venture–and social experience is exactly what we’re striving for when endlessly checking our phones and Facebook pages instead of reading. Plus, when was the last time you were in a room of people where no one was using a device of some kind?

[h/t the [i]Wall Street Journal][/i]]

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.