Reading is a better study break than TV and video games

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School can be overwhelming. Balancing work loads with social activities and part-time jobs is a difficult task and sometimes we just need a break. Unfortunately, a lot of the things students do to take breaks get, like watching Netflix for hours on end or going out to a party, get them a little too far out of the studying mindset.

I’ve always wondered how to combine taking a break with studying and most of what I’ve come up with involves borrowing Hermione’s time turner so I can do both at the same time. Other suggestions include watching TV and studying during the commercials, but that doesn’t really work when you’re watching shows on netflix, no commercials and only about 15 seconds between episodes doesn’t exactly allow for cramming in the 100 pages of reading I need to do for tomorrow.

My solution? Reading. Not reading more school-related books, that wouldn’t help me relax at all. I mean reading something you don’t have to highlight or memorize, something you won’t be tested on. I’m talking about fiction. It has all the same escapist qualities as TV has but without the potentially harmful effects later in life. As study published in 2015 in the journal Cerebral Cortex  looked at the impact of television watching in children. During the study, the children self-reported their TV viewing habits and durations. It concluded that watching TV had a negative effect on IQ.

“In particular,” says the study, “the present results showed effects of TV viewing on the frontopolar area of the brain, which has been associated with intellectual abilities.”

Studies on reading have come to different, and sometimes even opposite conclusions. A study conducted at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia concluded that reading can have a positive effect on the brain, increasing the reader’s ability to take on the perspective of others and also on their reading comprehension. The effects decreased in the time after reading. An obvious solution to that decrease would be to read more frequently.

Reading also has the ability to reduce stress. According to a study at the University of Sussex reading for just six minutes can reduce stress by more than 60 per cent. So, taking a 15 minute break during your studies to read a chapter or two of a fiction book can make a big difference in your stress levels.

As studies suggest, reading can help you identify more with others. Maybe it’s because you have to immerse yourself in the viewpoint of a character or two. It forces you to see the thought process behind their actions rather than just watching them do whatever it is they do like in a television show. The details are often what makes people say the book was better when it comes to a television or movie adaptation. For example, books like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or Brave New World might seem like they’re farfetched but they allow the reader to explore what it might be like to live in a society where your every move is monitored and regulated. Our society might not be like that, but some say that it’s not far off with the way things are going right now.

But what about other types of escapism, like video games? A recent study suggested that playing first person shooter style video games might have a negative effect on grey matter in the brains of people who think a certain way when it comes to spacial awareness. If you tend to think of the game map as a pattern to follow rather than as an active space, you may actually be diminishing the grey matter in your brain, says the study conducted by the Université de Montréal and McGill University. The opposite is true for 3D based games, says the study, which showed that those type of games might be useful in rehabilitation for people with brain injuries.

So, if you want to take a study break reading is high on the list of best activities. It reduces stress and will maybe improve some of your cognitive abilities for a while. And, as a positive that doesn’t necessarily affect your GPA, reading may help you understand other people better.

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