Research indicates, yes.
There is no better thing than a book to help you become sustainably smarter and well-rounded. Books train your mind and they are a means to become educated in ways that can enhance your overall wellbeing. But, is it possible that listening to books is as good for your brain as reading?
Books are indeed a wonderful thing, but not everyone likes to read or can read. Many will argue that the act of reading enhances deeper learning and retention of information. However, some people have trouble with reading due to word comprehension. Some people have vision problems. Others have trouble reading due to dyslexia. Some people, like me, find it too difficult to simply sit down quietly for a moment to indulge in the pleasure of reading.
After Thomas Edison created the first spoken word phonograph record in 1877, he predicted technology might one day allow books to be listened to “with great profit and amusement by the lady or gentleman whose eyes and hands may be otherwise employed.” He was right, according to Matthew Rubery, author of “The Untold History of the Talking Book”. Audiobooks are wonderful when we are driving or walking or doing anything where are hands are occupied, but the question remains, is listening to books is as good for your brain as reading?
In Amy Sach’s blog on Chirp, she lists five reasons why audiobooks may be better for the brain than reading:
- Audiobooks can help improve your comprehension and vocabulary. Hearing new words — independent of or in combination with reading them — can significantly help with comprehension and vocabulary, especially for kids and second-language learners. Just as early elementary school classes encourage children to new readers to say words aloud, audiobooks promote the same healthy learning habits. Mary Beth Crosby Carroll from The Children’s School in Brooklyn, NY, told Scholastic that “following along visually while listening can enhance word-recognition ability, while listening alone can expand vocabulary.” Audiobooks provide unique context clues and intonations that can help readers better understand the meaning and application of specific words.
- Audiobooks may help our brains better imagine the story. The vivid images and jump-off-the-page characters in books create a sort of magic, no matter the format. But a study conducted by the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior found that our brains are actually more likely to create meaningful imagery when we listen to a story — as opposed to when it’s read in a traditional format — because it allows more room for our brain’s visual processes to kick into gear. This explains, in part, why so many younger children love when someone reads to them!
- Compared to reading, listening to audiobooks can help us attach deeper meaning to phrases. When you’re reading a book, a lot of focus is placed on filling in gaps: voices, sounds, settings, accents, and more. These are all details your mind needs to create a full picture. Dr. Art Markman from The University of Texas tested whether hearing a proverb versus reading it resulted in a difference in comprehension. The results showed that when we hear a statement like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” we’re more likely to connect this to other proverbs that have similar deep meanings. But when we read that same proverb, our brain will pick out the literal elements rather than those that contribute to its deeper meaning, making us more likely to associate that proverb with others that mention wheels. According to Markman, because we can’t go back and “reread” audiobooks as easily, we’re inadvertently forcing our brains to extract deeper meanings more quickly. In other words, listening to audiobooks enables the mind to comprehend phrases at a faster speed.
- Listening to a story rather than watching one can spark a more emotional response. According to a study from University College London, people have a more emotional reaction when listening to a novel than they do when watching an adaptation. When we listen to a story, our brain has to create more content, such as imagery, to supplant the words. This helps create a “greater emotional and physiological engagement than watching the scene on a screen, as measured by both heart rate and electro-dermal activity,” according to conclusions drawn by Dr. Joseph Levin. The science makes intuitive sense ‒ hearing a story read aloud emulates social tendencies and humans are conditioned to communicate with each other auditorily.
- For readers who have trouble with the physical act of reading, audiobooks may offer a welcome alternative. Young children, and people with dyslexia, and those who are visually impaired may find that they can retain more of the story when listening to audiobooks than when reading the written word. Matt Davis from the University of Cambridge explains: “Anyone who finds reading difficult… might retain more from listening to an audiobook. The additional effort involved in reading the words uses mental resources that they would otherwise need for comprehension and memory.”
Audiobooks are listened to on your smartphone, tablet, smartwatch and desktop or laptop. How you listen to an audiobook depends on which apps can be downloaded on to your device. Apple and Android devices allow access to virtually every audiobook app. There are several audiobook services out there. Some are free and some are subscription based. Most of the subscription based apps allow a free trial to see if you can find all of the types of books you would like to listen to. Here is a list of the most commonly known services and things to know before trying them.
Amazon’s Audible offers audiobooks on virtually any device with the Audible app. You can access audiobooks through one-time purchases or a monthly subscription. The available titles is seemingly endless. Audible offers two main types of memberships — Audible Plus and Audible Premium Plus — each with a 30-day trial membership. The Audible Plus trial membership gives you 30 days of free access, after which the monthly subscription rate kicks in. During those 30 days, you can listen to podcasts, meditation programs, sleep tracks and audiobooks, plus access Audible Original content. Or you can opt for the Audible Premium Plus trial membership, which allows you to select from the same group of titles as well as choose and keep one title a month from Audible’s entire catalog. An Audible Premium Plus membership also gives you 30% off any additional premium titles you may want to buy. An Audible subscription also makes a wonderful gift.
Scribd books, audiobooks and magazines offers an unlimited subscription to 1 million-plus e-books and over 200,000 audiobooks, and it’s available on virtually any device with the Scribd app. The company recently introduced Scribd Perks, which gives you complimentary access to premium services with partner companies like Peak Pro and FarFaria with your subscription. You don’t have the option to buy titles here but may not need it, considering the large selection. Scribd offers a 30-day free trial, giving you access to its entire catalog of e-books, audiobooks, sheet music, podcasts, magazines and more, with the ability to cancel anytime. After the 30-day trial, the monthly membership charges begins.
Apple Books sells audiobooks individually instead of offering a subscription plan. The app is user-friendly. You can browse the bookstore for what you’d like to listen to and keep track of your history. The library isn’t as large as Audible’s however and the price for each title varies. Apple offers special discounts, and sometimes a few books are free. If you are an avid listener of audiobooks, this option may be a little pricey, and a subscription might be a better option.
Other audiobooks options
So, is listening to books as good for your brain as reading? Researchers say yes, giving us all the more reason to click on a audiobook and go for a walk or expand your mind while doing chores. If you find it hard to sit down with an actual book, listening to one is an amazing way to get still those neurons firing!
“The more that you read [listen], the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
(Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!)