Why Many Introverts Love Reading (and Shouldn’t Stop, According to Science)

An introvert enjoys reading.

Introverts: There’s no group more notorious for their bookworm-ish ways. You can sometimes spot us from a distance by this single characteristic — the girl in the cafe half-hidden behind the cover of Jane Eyre or the messy-haired guy wandering through the library, delighted by the titles found at every turn. When I encounter these bookish people, I often feel a sense of unspoken communion with them, imagining that they too are seeking quiet refuge in a noisy world.

Growing up, I always carried the novel I was reading around with me and pulled it out quietly whenever I had a spare moment: waiting for the bus, between classes, even in the bathroom. I probably heard the question, “What are you reading?” even more than the dreaded, “Why are you so quiet?”

I never considered this habit to be particularly productive. While getting lost in a book was a step up from binge watching The Vampire Diaries from my bed, I didn’t think it was the most useful way to spend my time. Sometimes I worried I was wasting hours absorbed in the imaginary worlds of made-up people. Wasn’t I better off learning a practical skill, or at least reading something informative? As several adults pointed out to me, I was too spacey and my head was always stuck in the clouds.

But recently, I’ve come across more and more research that justifies my long-time reading habits. Studies are showing what avid bookworms have professed all along: Fiction isn’t pointless. In fact, it’s one of the most enriching experiences you can have. For many introverts, the world of books beckons to us with almost magnetic force — so here are four good reasons, based on science, to trust that instinct and keep reading!

Why Introverts Should Keep Reading

1. Fiction increases empathy and social intelligence.

Have you ever noticed how the words of a story can rise off the page and create a new world that feels just as real as the one we live in? Researchers have found that fiction readers create intense mind simulations of the narrative’s events as they read, as if they were experiencing the plot themselves.

For example, subjects reading passages describing smells or textures engaged their sensory cortex, while those reading about physical movements activated their motor cortex. Emotions can also be transplanted from the pages of a book into our brains. When we enter a character’s perspective and identify with their desires and struggles, we’re practicing empathy and gaining greater insight into human nature.

Despite our devout love for alone time, most introverts have a deep desire to understand other people: how they think and what makes them tick. Stories are an unparalleled opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes — even a pair you might never get to try on in real life.

2. We become more comfortable with ambiguity, making better decisions.

George R.R. Martin, the author behind Game of Thrones, said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.” Because our mind and emotions become so immersed in narratives, it’s as if we’re living them alongside the characters we’re reading about. In his book, Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, Keith Oatley writes: “Fiction is a kind of simulation, one that runs not on computers but on minds…”

Books allow us to explore new ideas, difficult emotions, and possibilities we haven’t even considered. Additionally, because fiction is often ambiguous, frequent readers of literary fiction become more comfortable with the uncertainty inherent to life, one study found. They have less of a need for cognitive closure and definite conclusions, which can help them avoid snap judgements, poor decision-making, and rigid thinking.

As an introvert, I love how books can stimulate my mind, filling my imagination with different concepts and experiences, without zapping my energy. Even if you’re all “peopled out” for the day (or week… or year), the endless world of books can take you on a far-off adventure that doesn’t involve leaving the house.

3. Reading lowers our stress levels.

I know I’m not the only one who pushes through a hard day with the fantasy of collapsing in bed with a book hovering in the distance like a beautiful mirage. Especially for introverts, reading can be the perfect self-care activity.

Lots of us “quiet ones” have busy minds that don’t want to sit still, and it can be hard to transition from a hectic day to something as tranquil as meditation. Reading provides an excellent alternative — or something to help you wind down until your thoughts aren’t racing quite so quickly and you can enter a more focused, grounded state. As Ceridwen Dovey explains in a New Yorker article, “Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.”

While your mind and emotions are absorbed in a novel, your heart rate slows and your muscles release tension. A study at the University of Sussex found that reading, which reduces stress by 68 percent, is even more relaxing than taking a walk or drinking a cup of tea. As a bonus, regular readers sleep better.

The world can be particularly exhausting for introverts — plenty of us work with people all day, quiet students are pushed to talk more in class, and many “fun” activities we get talked into (like big parties) are more draining than enjoyable. Winding down with a book at the end of the day is a great way to calm our overwhelmed senses and recharge.

4. Reading makes us better communicators.

Even for introverts, who love being alone, human interaction is essential to living a healthy, meaningful life. Most introverts enjoy our rich inner worlds, but if we struggle to communicate our ideas, thoughts, and feelings to the people around us, we can still get lonely in them.

Whether you want to communicate better in conversation or in writing, the more you read, the more words seem to work with you. The website testyourvocab.com reviewed data gathered from millions of test takers and found that fiction readers have the most expansive vocabularies, followed by nonfiction readers, and then those who rarely read. Building your vocabulary and learning to wield the power of words opens up more opportunities to express yourself and forge meaningful connections with others.

From a young age, many introverts are accused of excessive daydreaming and ordered to “come back down to earth” where practical skills like cooking meals and making friends (of the non-fiction sort) are necessary. While these things are important, don’t let anyone talk you into caging your imagination or cutting personal reading time out of your schedule. After all, stories transform the world — and there’s nothing quite like the silent intensity of being absorbed in a good book.

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Sarah-Mae McCullough is a college student who has loved writing for as long as she can remember. In her free time, she enjoys dancing, reading, swimming in lakes and rivers, and eating (lots of) vegan food. She lives in Oregon.