Entries in Reading (13)


Reading, Writing May Help Stall Mental Decline

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Dementia, the severe decline in mental abilities, such as memory and reasoning, affects four to five million people in the United States, most of whom are elderly. A study in the journal Neurology finds that keeping the mind active, specifically by reading and writing, can help prevent mental deterioration.

Researchers studied 294 elderly people for six years before their deaths at an average age of 89 and found that those who took part in "mentally stimulating activities" -- like reading and writing -- over the course of their lives had a slower rate of mental decline as compared to those who hadn't.

In fact, those subjects who frequently took part in mental activity late in their lives decreased the decline of their mental faculties by about 32 percent.

Researchers believe that it is important to begin partaking in mental activity during childhood and to maintain it well into your later years.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


"Esquire" Bets New 'Dude Lit' Will Entice Men to Read Fiction

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While women devour fiction books like the racy Fifty Shades of Grey, a major publisher is betting that more men will at long last take up reading via an eBook series that will launch June 5 -- Fiction for Men.

The collection -- a collaboration between Esquire magazine and Open Road Integrated Media -- is meant to be funny and action-driven.

"Each story is about something that men can relate to," Esquire's editor-in-chief David Granger wrote in an email to ABC News.  "One of the stories -- about a drug deal gone bad -- is surprising and exciting and violent and taps into one of the parts of life that many men dread: f***ing up in an irreparable way."

The theme of another is basketball and "the inevitability of aging;" and the third is about a boy deciding to "take on some of the trappings of manhood," according to Granger.

The first volume will highlight short stories by authors Aaron Gwyn, Luis Alberto Urrea and Jess Walter and Esquire will offer up new fiction every month.

Granger said he has no idea if this new testosterone-laden "dude lit" will tap into the new lucrative eBook market.

"This is an experiment," he said.  "I see how rabidly men, as well as women, consume the works of writers like Michael Connelly and Lee Child and James Lee Burke and I know there is a market for well-crafted, plot-driven stories."

According to several national surveys, only one-third of all American readers are males, and fiction is not their genre of choice.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Swearing Characters More Popular, Attractive in Young Adult Novels

Zoonar/Thinkstock(PROVO, Utah) -- Profanity in teen novels varies greatly from book to book, but characters that do use foul language tend to also be the most popular, attractive and rich, according to new research published in the journal Mass Communication and Society.

Sarah Coyne, professor in the department of family life at Brigham Young University, analyzed the use of profanity in 40 young adult books on the adolescent bestsellers list.

Thirty-five out of the 40 books had at least one swear word. She found that YA novels contained on average 38 instances of bad language, but one book had nearly 500 instances of swearing.

Of note, the characters that were doing the swearing tended to be of higher social status, better looking and have more money than their non-swearing counterparts.

"The funny thing about books is that you really don't know what you're getting into when you pick one up," said Coyne. "I was genuinely surprised by how much profanity some of these books had."

The documented increase in the use of profanities within YA fiction keeps with the increased acceptance of obscenities in general, said Dr. Steven Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

"Recall the multiple political figures who have been heard to use profanity when they assumed they were not on microphone," said Schlozman. "The subsequent [truth] that increased profanity within dialogue or first-persona narratives, or third-person familiar narratives, adds to the YA novel, and a kind of challenging that is characteristic of identity formation for all adolescents and young adults, especially in Western culture."

And that level of profanity that kids are learning and using these days can be shocking, said Dr. Victor Strasburger, a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications & Media. But, while media plays a strong role in influencing children's language and profanity, movies and television have a much more powerful role than books.

"Reading has always been a separate kind of media," said Strasburger. "Seeing your favorite movie star, or someone you identify with, spouting foul language is different than reading it on a page because with movies you have the visual processing, along with the auditory and role modeling. With books, you just have the visual."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Baboons Can Recognize Words, Study Finds

Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- Researchers in France discovered that baboons can recognize hundreds of four-letter words on a computer screen, and they can tell a real word apart from a nonsense jumble of letters, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Every time they tapped the right icon identifying whether the letters on the screen were a real word or just a jumble, they got a treat. The baboons, however, are only spotting sequences of letters so they can get fed.  They don’t actually understand what the words mean.

“The baboons use information about letters and the relations between letters in order to perform our task… This is based on a very basic ability to identify everyday objects in the environment,” Dr. John Grainger at the Aix-Marseille University told BBC Nature.

In other words, any monkey can recognize that something is a word, but not every primate can be literate.  Still, the researchers say they are “excited” about the results of their study.  

Going into it, they didn’t know if the six Guinea baboons would be able to pull it off.  Dan the Baboon will never appreciate Dr. Seuss, but it’s still pretty impressive that he can recognize more than 300 words. And with further study we might learn something more from them about how humans first learned to read.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Signs of Dyslexia Start Before Reading, Study Finds

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Signs of dyslexia may begin even before a child tries to read, according to new research published in the journal Current Biology.

Dyslexia, a developmental reading disorder that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols, cannot just be considered a language problem anymore, as it affects comprehension and visual understanding of symbols and patterns, said Andrea Facoetti, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Padova and co-author of the study. It has been widely "accepted that reading disorders arise from a spoken language problem, [but] results demonstrate the critical role played by visual attention in learning to read."

Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading and writing difficulties in the U.S., and according to the National Institutes of Health, up to 15 percent of the population may have dyslexia.

The researchers followed 96 Italian children for three years, between kindergarten and second grade. They found that the children who had difficulty identifying certain symbols within patterns and sentences had a harder time reading later on.

The ability to filter out and identify such information is crucial in isolating single letters or syllables before the written words are translated in corresponding speech sound, said Facoetti.

The study authors believe treatment for dyslexia should be changed to take into account such visual information.

"The possibility to dramatically reduce the reading disorder would have a great impact in improving the children's quality of life and in decreasing governmental costs," Facoetti said.

Interesting as the findings are, Dr. Stefanie Hines, director of the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Children's Hospital in Michigan, said they might not easily translate to U.S. children, because the orthography, or the relationship between sounds and spelling, is more complicated in English than in Italian.

"I would caution that the study was conducted on Italian children," said Hines. "The prevalence of dyslexia in Italy is lower than in the U.S."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Many Parents Say They’re Too Busy, Tired to Read to Children

Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Many parents who are struggling to balance work and family are often too busy or simply too tired to read to their kids.  That’s one of the findings of a new U.K. survey of 2,000 parents with children aged 2 to 5 years old.

Half of the parents surveyed said they were too tired or busy to read to their kids, and work came first.

Among the survey's other findings:

-- 10 percent of parents read to their children less than twice a month.
-- One in five dads cites work as the reason they don’t read to their kids.
-- 36 percent of parents are likely to rely on others to read to their child.
-- 80 percent of U.K. parents describe themselves as stressed, with 30 percent admitting they are more stressed now than a year ago.
-- 75 percent of parents say their stress has impacted their child.

Of those parents who do read to their children:

-- 51 percent cite cuddling and being close as the things they love most about story-time.
-- 43 percent say acting out characters is their favorite part of reading to their kids.
-- 62 percent of parents make up stories for their children.

The U.K. survey was conducted by Onepoll for Munch Bunch Yogurts.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Infants May Use Lip Reading to Learn Language

Tooga/The Image Bank(WASHINGTON) -- Infants learn language not only through sound, but also through lip reading, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers say the new findings defy the conventional view that babies learn to speak through sound alone and the research may even assist in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in the future.

Scientists from Florida Atlantic University studied 89 infants ranging in age from 4 months to 12 months old. They also studied 21 adults. Participants watched a 50-second video of a woman reciting a monologue in their native English, while researchers used an eye tracker to determine where they directed their pupils while watching and listening to the video.

Four-month-old infants, along with adults, spent more time looking at the speaker's eyes. But babies between 6 and 12 months shifted their attention between the speaker's mouth and eyes. It is unknown at what age the shift from mouth to eyes is totally complete, but the older infants tended to look at the speaker's eyes more than her mouth.

"By this time at 12 months, babies are already producing their first words and have mastered the first sounds and structures of the language," said David Lewkowicz, an expert on infant perceptual development and lead author of the study. "They no longer have to lip-read as they ramp up their first speech patterns, and they are free to shift back to the eyes, where you find a great deal of social information."

"This research confirms and extends what we already know about typical development: Language is not just an auditory process, it is the integration of visual and auditory information as the child learns words," said Stephen Camarata, professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University. "What happens in infancy has important ramifications for later development."

Researchers said the data could contribute to autism research, as well. Two-year-old children with autism attend more to speaker's mouths, according to past literature on the developmental disorder. This study shows that attention to the mouth is a normal developmental phase during the first year, and the comparision could aid in autism diagnosis at an earlier age.

"Right now, the earliest one can diagnose a child with autism is 18 months, so this could possibly be a way in the future to diagnose infants as early as 12, 13 or 14 months if we find babies are not making a shift back to the eyes around this age," Lewkowicz said. "If that is the case, this would be a huge step forward in the development of diagnostic tools for autism because it would be six months earlier than what we can do now."

But Rhea Paul, director of the Yale Child Study Center's Laboratory of Development Communication Disorders, warned that an autism diagnosis is not so easily simplified, and it could be dangerous to make blanket claims regarding autism and eye attention.

"I think caution is always warranted when attempting to identify a single early 'marker' for a developmental disorder, such as failure to go back to looking at eyes at 12 months as a sign of autism, simply because of the great variability in behavior and development that is normal in the first couple of years of life," Paul told

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Special Font Helps Dyslexics Mind Their Ps and Qs

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(DETROIT) -- Some of the letters are a bit askew, others gape open or slump slightly. But all the letters in the font Dyslexie are designed to make reading easier for people with dyslexia.

Christian Boer, the Dutch graphic artist who designed the font, is dyslexic himself, and knew firsthand that people with the disorder often mix up letters that look similar, MSNBC reports.

The letter “b,”  for instance, can easily flip into a “d” or even a “p.” A lowercase “e” can be mixed with its simpler cousin, “c.” A little “i” looks very much like a “j.”

In his Dyslexie font, Boer altered the letters ever so slightly to give them a bit more individuality, making some lean forward or backward, making others wider, or spacing the characters farther apart. Boer said the slight alterations make the letters more distinguishable to dyslexics.

The font “is gaining popularity because people with dyslexia see-experience that it works,” Boer told MSNBC, citing a small study conducted by a Dutch grad student showing that dyslexics made fewer errors while ready Dyslexie.

Although dyslexia, also called developmental reading disorder, is commonly characterized simply as a problem transposing letters -- changing “b” into “d” -- scientists say the disorder is much broader than that. Dr. Stefani Hines, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician who works with dyslexics at the Beaumont Health System near Detroit, said the solution to dyslexia is not as simple as just changing a font.

“Dyslexia is not a vision problem, it’s a problem with deep phonological processing,” involving problems understanding letter and sound association and rhyming, Hines said. “So changing the font is not a cure, it’s just a help.”

But Hines noted that a number of her patients report that larger fonts or text that has more white space helps them with reading. She said solutions such as Dyslexie or other fonts such as “Lexia readable” are worth studying. What will help dyslexics more, however, is intense tutoring and strategies that help people deal with the deeper issues that cause dyslexia, she said.

“If you start relying on a font, every word in your environment would have to look like that,” Hines said. “The words on your restaurant menu probably aren’t going to look that way.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dogs Have a New Trick: Helping Kids Read

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Bailey Benson turned 10 today, but she's already reading like a high school student thanks to her terrier tutor, Guthrie.

It's been a year and a half since Benson and her parents visited an animal shelter in Phoenix and came home with Guthrie, a mixed-breed dog that looks like Dorothy's Toto. In that time, Benson's reading skills and confidence have soared.

"She reads to him constantly," said Benson's mom, Maria. "At any given time, you can go into her room and she's reading to him out loud."

Guthrie's nonjudgmental presence and silent appreciation for the written word might be driving Benson's success. Based on the results of a pilot study, researchers from Tufts University in Boston say reading out loud to dogs can boost kids' ability and desire to read.

"Dogs are such good listeners," said Lisa Freeman, a veterinarian at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. "They really make reading a fun and pleasant experience for a child in what might otherwise be a challenging environment."

Small studies and personal anecdotes have touted the benefits of reading to dogs for more than a decade. As a result, programs that match young readers with furry friends at local libraries, group homes and community centers are in high demand.

"We want to be able to expand these programs -- get more funding and get them into more communities," Freeman said. Larger scientific studies, she hopes, will yield the hard evidence needed to convince naysayers and boost resources.

The psychological benefits of pet ownership are profound. Dogs can comfort college students panicking over midterms and calm hospital patients waiting for intimidating tests. They can even ease debilitating anxiety for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We've always known that pets made us feel good, but we're increasingly realizing that pets are in fact good for us," said Marty Becker, an Idaho-based veterinarian and author of "The Healing Power of Pets." "Not everything has to be state of the art; we need things that are state of the heart."

Humans aren't the only ones who benefit from the relationship. Freeman said dogs in Tufts' Paws for People program are thrilled to do their jobs.

"We want to make sure both ends of the leash are benefiting from this," she said.

Guthrie seems content enough, having patiently listened to about 25 books. Benson tries to pick "things he likes," like poetry, "Harry Potter," and anything about dogs. She avoids "Lemony Snicket" -- the spooky series makes Guthrie anxious, she said.

Guthrie has also bolstered Benson's love for animals. About to enter the fifth grade, she's now torn between a career as a vet or as a gynecologist.

"Maybe I could be a veterinary gynecologist," she recently told her mom.

Benson celebrated her ninth birthday at her local Humane Society, to which she donated any money she was given so the dogs could find "forever homes." This year she asked for an e-reader.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Spoiler Alert: People Like Knowing the Ending

Design Pics / SW Productions(SAN DIEGO) -- This story -- spoiler alert! -- has a happy ending. If it were a suspense novel, would knowing that make you enjoy it less? To their surprise, psychology researchers found that people actually rated stories higher if they knew how they came out.

So can ruining the surprise make a story more enjoyable? That's what Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt found, and Christenfeld says he was at first stumped. Leavitt is getting his doctorate in psychology at the University of California at San Diego, and Christenfeld is a professor there.

"I was surprised by the finding," Christenfeld said. "I've spent my life not looking at the end of a book." He and Leavitt had 300 volunteers read 12 short stories, including mysteries or tales with surprise endings by the likes of Agatha Christie, John Updike and Anton Chekov, and rated them on a scale of 1 to 10. Almost without fail, and by sizeable margins, the readers rated them more highly if the researchers inserted copy near the beginning, giving away how the tales would come out.

"You get this significant reverse-spoiler effect," Christenfeld said in an interview with ABC News. "It's sort of as if knowing things puts you in a position that gives you certain advantages to understand the plot."

The researchers say their study did not give direct evidence to explain why people didn't mind having a surprise spoiled, but Christenfeld said he has some ideas. Perhaps, he said, people enjoy a good story as much as a good twist at the end. Even if they know how it comes out, they'll enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

"Writers use their artistry to make stories interesting, to engage readers, and to surprise them," Leavitt and Christenfeld said in their paper, to be published in the journal Psychological Science. "But giving away these surprises makes readers like stories better. This was true whether the spoiler revealed a twist at the end -- that the condemned man's daring escape was just a fantasy before the rope snapped taut around his neck -- or solved the crime -- that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is in fact the perpetrator."

The researchers say they're thinking about follow-up studies, though a controlled test of responses to films is more difficult than one involving short stories. But they've come away believing that surprise may be overrated.

"Other intuitions about suspense may be similarly wrong," they conclude, "and perhaps birthday presents are better wrapped in transparent cellophane."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio