You can’t give a dog a book to read, but you can teach a human to read.
And that’s precisely what a team of Harvard University researchers have managed to do.
In a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, they found that the best predictor of whether a human will eventually learn to read is the amount of time it spends with a book.
“For example, if we have a book with a cover that is large and it is a classic book, then the best candidate to learn to pick it up is the book itself,” said lead author Daniela Pérez-Fernandez, an assistant professor in the department of psychology and co-director of the Harvard-Harvard Child Study.
“In this study, we had a group of 11 people, all of whom had been trained to pick up books from shelves.
Each participant was shown an image of a book on a computer screen, and we asked them to pick out the book in a short time.
And if the book was not available, then they had to learn the book on their own.”
The researchers then tested the subjects on their ability to identify which of the images was a book and which was not, and the book that they were most likely to pick as the one they were interested in.
“When we asked our subjects to identify the book as the book they wanted, we found that their ability was a direct result of their experience with the book,” Péez-Fernández said.
“Their performance was better when they saw the book, and they were also better at predicting which book they picked when they were not able to pick one up.”
In other words, when they got to the point where they could read a book, they were much more likely to choose it over another book.
And, if you can’t tell the difference between a book you’ve seen and a book that you don’t know, that’s a pretty big indicator of a lack of a certain ability.
“It was a pretty direct, very straightforward thing to demonstrate that it’s not just about books,” Pétrez-Vidal added.
“You can teach horses to read and they do it pretty well.
They do it well, but it’s really about the training of the brain, and that’s what we’re looking for in the study.”
When the researchers took the subjects to a library, they had them read books in order of preference.
They were then given a choice of books to pick, and then given another choice.
The authors found that if they got a book they liked, they picked it over the other book, as opposed to choosing it against the books that they liked best.
“We found that these subjects who read the most books were actually better at picking the book than the subjects who did not read any books at all,” Pénrez-Gómez said.
And, indeed, that was the case: subjects who were reading more books actually picked the book with the least amount of effort, which is consistent with the theory that humans have an innate ability to pick certain kinds of books, based on experience.
“The idea of the book being the most valuable thing that we have is something that’s been suggested in literature for a long time, and it’s also the most intuitive thing that can be said about books in general,” Pésrez-Nadal added.
The researchers found that, in contrast, subjects who had read more books were not better at recognizing the book.
“This was a surprise,” Pérrez-Reyes said.
“Most people know that if you see a book before you pick it, it’s a book of no value.
But this was the opposite: we saw that they picked the books they had been looking for, and if you didn’t see a certain book, you picked it against all other books that were on the shelf.”
The authors believe this finding could be a powerful tool for teaching children, and in particular, adults, to read more literature.
“Because this was a group that was able to read all kinds of literature, it could help people in the classroom and beyond,” Pñrez-Flores added.
“We’re excited to be able to bring this research to people’s attention, and to help educate people to read.”
Source: Frontiers: Frontiers in Psychological Science DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00162