A study was recently published that claims learning to read and improvement in reading ability has a positive effect on intelligence overall.
Where to begin?
First, getting past sensational science related headlines takes effort. I have an educated and beginners mind when it comes to reading research. I read through this study slowly, and appears to me to be well-designed, and does not overstate what it found.
What it basically found/claims, is that learning to read not only helps improve verbal intelligence (which would be expected), it leads to improvements in non-verbal (visual/spatial) performance on IQ tests. This is the first time positive effects were found in areas not limited to verbal performance.
Of course I agree with the obvious. Learning to read and improving reading skill is vastly important for all sorts of reasons. There are however, a few cautions.
1. We don’t really measure intelligence. We try. What we really do as far as I can tell, is measure performance on tasks that we think are manifestations of intelligence.
2. If improving reading skills has positive effects on verbal and non-verbal intelligence, that’s a good thing. But we still don’t know why. Success in reading is based on several cognitive capacities including working memory, phonological processing, and fluent orthographic knowledge. Perhaps development of those skills are what transfers over to other more general thinking and problem-solving abilities. Perhaps the process of improving one’s reading skills, which undoubtedly includes perseverance, goal-setting and seeing weaknesses as challenges to be met, contains the operative links to improvements in “IQ.” In many cases, having access to high quality teaching (of reading and spelling) involves a mentor-student relationship that is a critical factor in building on success.
In other words, success breeds success.
The study I’m referencing can be found here: Learning To Read Improves Overall Intelligence