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Education Bookcast

Apr 13, 2017

I thought it was about time to cover something about books on this book-related podcast!

Keith Stanovich and Annie Cunningham are two researchers who have spent their careers working together to understand the effects of reading on knowledge. Their research aims to answer a few questions in particular:

1. How much does reading matter in increasing people's knowledge? Is amount of reading irrelevant, since amount of information absorbed depends so much more strongly on innate intelligence than it does on exposure to more information?

2. How does reading compare to other sources of knowledge? Is reading particularly important or special in some way, or do people tend to gain as much and as high-quality information from other sources?

The answers to these two sets of questions are very clear from Stanovich and Cunningham's research:

1. Reading is a much more important factor than innate intelligence, as far as knowledge is concerned. Extent of exposure to print even in literate societies varies greatly between individuals, and general knowledge, as well as applied knowledge, correlate strongly with measures of reading volume, but only weakly with measures of intelligence.

2. Reading completely outstrips other sources of information in terms of effect on knowledge. For example, when comparing old people to young people, the greater knowledge of the older people could be completely statistically explained by the amount of reading that they had done in their lives. All that matters is that the older people had read more!

Over multiple studies, the two researchers hammer home these points again and again. It reminds us of how high-quality text can be as a medium, and of how exposure and practice tend to go underrated in favour of natural talent in Western cultures. (This last point is a common theme on this podcast which I have talked about extensively, with episodes such as Mindset; my series on high performers including Bounce, Genius Explained, The Talent Code, and Outliers; and most recently in The Geography of Thought.)

Enjoy the episode. And get reading!

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