How reading makes you more intelligent and empathic

Get lost in a good book. Time and again, reading has been shown to make us healthier, smarter, and more empathic.

Fitness headlines promise staggering physical results: a firmer butt, ripped abs, bulging biceps. Nutritional breakthroughs are similar clickbait, with attention-grabbing, if often inauthentic—what, really, is a “superfood?”—means of achieving better health. Strangely, one topic usually escaping discussion has been shown, time and again, to make us healthier, smarter, and more empathic animals: reading.

Reading, of course, requires patience, diligence, and determination. Scanning headlines and retweeting quips is not going to make much cognitive difference. If anything, such sweet nothings are dangerous, the literary equivalent of sugar addiction. Information gathering in under 140 characters is lazy. The benefits of contemplation through narrative offer another story.

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‘It’s a superpower’: how walking makes us healthier, happier and brainier

Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara believes that plenty of regular walking unlocks the cognitive powers of the brain like nothing else. He explains why you should exchange your gym kit for a pair of comfy shoes and get strolling.

Taking a stroll with Shane O’Mara is a risky endeavour. The neuroscientist is so passionate about walking, and our collective right to go for walks, that he is determined not to let the slightest unfortunate aspect of urban design break his stride. So much so, that he has a habit of darting across busy roads as the lights change. “One of life’s great horrors as you’re walking is waiting for permission to cross the street,” he tells me, when we are forced to stop for traffic – a rude interruption when, as he says, “the experience of synchrony when walking together is one of life’s great pleasures”. He knows this not only through personal experience, but from cold, hard data – walking makes us healthier, happier and brainier.

We are wandering the streets of Dublin discussing O’Mara’s new book, In Praise of Walking, a backstage tour of what happens in our brains while we perambulate. Our jaunt begins at the grand old gates of his workplace, Trinity College, and takes in the Irish famine memorial at St Stephen’s Green, the Georgian mile, the birthplace of Francis Bacon, the site of Facebook’s new European mega-HQ and the salubrious seaside dwellings of Sandymount.

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Toward a New Frontier in Human Intelligence: The Person-Centered Approach

When it comes to intelligence, we all have bad days. Heck, we even have many bad moments, such as when we forget our car keys, forget a friend’s name, or bomb an important test that we’ve taken a day after staying up all night worrying about it. Truth is, none of us– including the world’s smartest human– is perfectly consistent in our cognitive functioning. Sometimes we are at our very best and feel like our brain is on fire, and at other times, we don’t even recognize ourselves.

All of this sounds so obvious, but surprisingly the field of human intelligence has not had much to say on the topic. For over the past 120 years, the field has shed far more light on how we differ from each other in our patterns of cognitive functioning than how we each differ within ourselves over time.

This is curious considering that a person-centered approach has proved fruitful in other fields, such as medicine and neuroscience. Even within the study of human behavior there has been progress, from looking at how individual emotions fluctuate over time, to how individual personality traits such as introversion and openness to new experiences and even our morality fluctuates throughout the course of the day. It has become increasingly clear that the results from the traditional individual differences paradigm– where we compare people to each other– often does not apply at the person-specific level.

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