Reading books is no better for well-being than other media, study finds

The researchers found that people who read or listened to audiobooks got no increase in happiness compared to those who didn’t. File photo by Valkr / Shutterstock

When it comes to what makes us happy, is reading or listening to music better than spending hours playing video games?

Not really, says a team of researchers from the UK and Austria.

“A lot of people think that traditional media, like reading books or listening to music, is good for us,” said study leader Niklas Johannes, from the University of Oxford.

“Amazingly, we don’t really have strong evidence that this is the case. In fact, this belief that new media is harmful but traditional media is beneficial can be rather elitist,” he said.

To find out more, Johannes and his colleagues tracked the media use of nearly 2,200 UK participants for two months. Their habits were then compared to the level of anxiety and happiness the participants reported feeling.

It didn’t matter, the study showed how long people spent their noses in a book rather than poring over technology. Ultimately, both Hobbies had about the same impact on a person’s sense of well-being.

Johannes, a postdoctoral researcher in an Oxford Institute program focused on adolescent wellbeing in the digital age, set out to see how seven types of media affected participants’ levels of happiness and anxiety.

Six weekly surveys were administered to a representative sample of people aged 16 and over.

Participants reported whether they had used music, television, movies, video games, books, magazines, and/or audiobooks in the past week and how much time they spent on each. activity. They also indicated how happy and/or anxious they felt the day before each survey.

Researchers found that people who read or listen to audiobooks did not gain happiness compared to those who did not. Nor were they less anxious.

At the same time, participants who were having fun with music, TV, movies and/or video games seemed to be slightly more excited and unhappy than those who weren’t.

“These differences were very small – too small for people to notice,” Johannes pointed out.

What media a person uses or for how long has “little or no effect” on happiness, the researchers concluded.

“It’s easy to point fingers at the media when we’re dealing with big social issues, like mental health,” Johannes said. “But research generally shows that the media’s effect on mental health is small, so their bad reputation is certainly undeserved.”

Still, Johannes pointed out that social media engagement was not among the activities analyzed by the researchers. And while they counted time spent with different types of media, the researchers didn’t dig into the specific content of any of the books, magazines, music, videos, or games.

Which means that, for now, the results should be interpreted as associations, he said, rather than evidence of cause and effect.

The results were published Thursday in the journal Scientific reports.

James Maddux, professor emeritus of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., reviewed the results.

He pointed out that the study did not address the fact that modern life is not so neatly divided between old and new technology. Maddux noted, for example, that when he reads, 90% of the time he does so in front of a computer.

Describing himself as “one of those elitist snobs” who long believed that reading books was a better use of time than watching TV or playing video games, Maddux said the results came as “unsurprising to him. “.

He suggested that the next step could be for researchers to dive deep into the actual content of media consumed, to see if what is absorbed is more critical than how much.

“A study from several years ago found that reading what is often called ‘literary fiction’ — [meaning] Jane Austen vs. John Grisham — can lead to an increase in empathy,” Maddux said. “So maybe the type of movies and shows people watch is also important.”

It would be great, Maddux added, if the authors of this study had access to this information.

More information

There’s more on the effects of digital media on mood at world happiness report.

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About Marcia G. Hussain

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