Growing Up Surrounded by Books Could Have Powerful, Lasting Effect on the Mind

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A new study suggests that exposure to large home libraries may have a long-term impact on proficiency in three key areas

Research has already suggested that opening a book may help improve brain function, reduce stress, and even make us more empathetic. Now, a team led by Joanna Sikora of the Australian National University is looking into the benefits of growing up around a book-filled environment; as Alison Flood of the Guardian reports, the researchers’ expansive new study suggests that homes with ample libraries can arm children with skills that persist into adulthood.

The study, published recently in Social Science Research, assessed data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Chile. Participants filled out surveys with the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies, which measures proficiency in three categories: literacy, numeracy (using mathematical concepts in everyday life) and information communication technology, (using digital technology to communicate with other people, and to gather and analyze information).

Respondents, who ranged in age from 25 to 65, were asked to estimate how many books were in their house when they were 16 years old. The research team was interested in this question because home library size can be a good indicator of what the study authors term “book-oriented socialization.” Participants were able to select from a given range of books that included everything from “10 or less” to “more than 500.”

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