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The effect of reading on the mind

I was just browsing through some research papers in Google the other day (sigh, a world without Google…it gives me shivers to even contemplate it) and I come across an interesting paper titled What Reading Does for the Mind by Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich.I found what I had always been looking for. You see, I never really had any good comebacks to my friends' comments that I was a nerd, a bookworm combined with their underlying implication of what so much reading would do for me. Now, after reading through Cunningham's paper, I am delighted to say that here is definite proof that reading is good for you. Although that, in itself, may not seem that surprising, the magic of how it happens is quite interesting.

Cunningham, an associate professor in cognition and development at the graduate school of education at the University of California, Berkeley, makes the following points in favour of reading:

1. It increases a person's vocabulary more than talking or direct teaching

2. It substantially affects one's IQ or general knowledge

3. It helps keep our reasoning and memory abilities intact as we age.

Increasing your vocabulary

Think you can learn the most words by talking or by being taught? Wrong. Researchers believe that more words pour into your brain while reading than from simple conversation or television.

In the study mentioned above, 86741 words were ranked according to their 'frequency' i.e. according to how often they occur in a large corpus of written English. For example, the word “the” is ranked number one, the word “it” is ranked number 10. In speech, the average word frequency is 400 - meaning, when we talk, we are likely to use a small set of frequently occurring words. Meanwhile, words in children's books, which adults dismiss as simple little things, have an average frequency of 627. In other words, the language in a children's book is likely to be more sophisticated than your average conversation.

The only way to learn rare or difficult words is through reading too. In another table, the number of 'rare' words per 100 words in different mediums is examined. A newspaper, for instance, has a figure of 68.3 while on prime time television shows, it sinks to a mere 22.7. Adult speech only contains 17.0 rare words, which means that even if you have stimulating conversation everyday with a college graduate you're much better off reading some sort of literature. Children's books have 50% more rare words in them than do adult prime time television.

Increased IQ?

To assess intelligence, five measures of general knowledge were employed in the study. There was also a practical knowledge test in which questions like 'When the stock exchange is in a bear market, what is happening?' and 'What does the carburetor in a automobile do?' were asked. Regardless of general abilities, it was seen that the people who read more knew more.

The people who read more were also likely to less misinformed than those who did not. In the study, participants were asked to estimate if the number of Muslims or Jews in the world were more. A surprising 69.3% in the sample thought that there were more Jews than Muslims in the world. Actually, there are about 20 million Jews and more than 800 million Muslims (I didn't know that myself).

Helps reduce ageing of the mind

To further study the long lasting effects reading has on the mind, researchers examined the performance of college students against older citizens in measures like general knowledge etc. The seniors won out over the youngsters but failed when it came to tasks which required reasoning and deduction. However, when the subjects examined were all well read, the difference between college students and older citizens in terms of their vocabulary and general knowledge diminished. Therefore the results of this study proved that reading helped to reverse a lot of the detrimental effects of ageing on the mind!

The entire study was an eye opener for me. It means that kids who get an early start to reading in life will enjoy a lifetime of literary experiences. In the words of Cunningham “Those who read a lot will enhance their verbal intelligence that is, reading will make them smarter.”

So the next time you pick up a book, take comfort in the fact that you're not only making your parents happy by reading something else other than comic books, you are also helping to make yourself smarter in every possible way.

By Nisma Elias

Lost and Found

Some people prefer being in the background. Away from the limelight, working silently, making things happen. I would say I am one of those people; sadly, the description does not quite fit me. I do not really make things happen. You see my job is tuning guitars, plugging in plugs, testing the microphones… sometimes even doing their laundry. 'They' are the red carpet people. The glitterati. The stars.

Tonight is the night. She would perform. I would get her flowers, take her out to a meal and finally tell her how I felt about her. It would be perfect. I could not go wrong. How could things go wrong if I would just be myself, right? How could things go wrong, even if she adorned half the newspapers this morning, and the newspapers I saw her in were not even mine, but borrowed.

It was lucky I didn't have to buy a ticket to be there. After clearing things up on the stage I made my way to the back, waiting for things to fade to black, and her appearance. When she was illuminated on-stage, it was as if the lights read my mind. In the darkness she shone; luminous like Seraphim. Before I could take in her voice completely it was time for a break. I rushed to the stage, checked the equipment, and tried to give her an encouraging smile that she missed.

I ran outside, and bought daffodils I could ill-afford. She was singing again. I wrote a note to stick to the flowers. “Great job! You're a terrific singer!” I was never much of a wordsmith, a fact I hoped she would overlook. I began cheering along with the crowd, swinging to her angel's voice.

Her performance being over, she left the stage amidst wild applause. Getting her alone now would be impossible. I made my way to the bathroom, motivated to look my absolute best. When I came out, I heard that she was leaving early. I rushed to the secret back door that I knew was there. It was for when celebrities wanted to duck fans.

I saw her surrounded by some large men. Jocks. Not fans… her band mates. They were celebrating. I myself could not help but grin widely. The drummer, a really big fellow, lifted her up and together they made their way to the band's van and sped away. I was left with a stupid grin on my face, and the ambrosial daffodils clutched tightly on my hands.

As depressed as I was, I was still hungry. I stuck to my plans for the evening. The only difference was that she was not there. I ate my dinner silently. The vase was empty so I put my daffodils in it. I could feel someone staring at me from behind. I looked back to see my neighbor, Lamia. She was also eating alone. We smiled a customary smile at one another. After I was done with my food, I left a decent tip, because I was equipped with enough for dinner for two people.

As I walked home I was mired in self-disgust. How dare I even think about being with someone like her? I felt so low that I could have been told I'd die in a few minutes and I would have welcomed it. My thoughts ran on and on, like a high-speed car chase on repeat.

Nearing my apartment, I reached into my pocket for my wallet. I kept my keys in my wallet, and various other odds and ends. But it was not there. How obsessed was I with her to have left my wallet in the restaurant and not even realized it. I rested my head against the door, and shut my eyes for a second; too tired to walk back and too broke to take a taxi ride.

Suddenly, the familiar smell of the daffodils engulfed my nostrils. I looked back to the sound of rubber soles and saw Lamia. She smiled.

“At least the guy who might have found this could not have taken anything valuable,” she said, letting out a slight laughter.

The sheepish grin returned to my face. “You went through it?” I asked, knowing Lamia too well to ask the question.

“Of course.” She returned, as if it would have been crazy doing otherwise.

“Hey, you want to go out and get a quick coffee?”

“Lead the way.”

I have no idea why I felt so happy, but I did. I felt pure bliss.

By Ahsan Sajid

Campus news

3rd BDC Pre-Worlds Championship 2007

The 3rd Pre-World debating Championship saw the grand finale on the evening of 3rd March 2007, after two-and-half long days of brain-storming, oratory and study.

Over the years this competition has become one of the most prestigious and competitive debating competitions of Bangladesh, the reason mainly being the fact that other than a tremendous experience it is also a prelude to the annual Worlds School Debating Championship. Bangladesh Debating Council (BDC) has taken the initiative to pick out the ten best English debaters through the Pre-World championship and then train them through a special interview round to prepare them for the WSDC.

The tournament was hosted this time by the Red Brick School in Uttara. Twenty eight three-member teams participated in the six Preliminary rounds out of which three were prepared rounds and three were impromptu rounds. One of impromptu motions that really caught debaters off guard was; “This house believes that the Da Vinci Code cannot be justified”. Those who had not read the book were particularly in a dire state especially when the session required you to speak (sense) for eight whole minutes! 2nd March night found tired debaters waiting in suspense for the results of breaking teams qualifying for the quarter finals. The break night party with the music and dancng helped relax and after a long nail-biting wait, the eight teams returning the next day for the quarter finals were announced: Matermind D, Manarat A, ESS A, BIT A, Sunnydale A, ISD, Mastermind E and Manarat B.

Having entered the knockout round pressure mounted on winning teams as they proceeded into the day, while a deep sense of loss overcame the not-so-fortunate ones. Amidst a concert hosted by the resident red Brick students the teams qualifying for the finals were announced: Manarat A (Proposition), age old champions with an established name in the debating arena against ISD (Opposition), a new team of relatively younger debaters with little experience yet high spirits, and the motion being “This house will enforce a ministerial code of ethics” Sohara, Prime Minister opened the arguments, with confidence and fluency. But the opposition leader Shabab Mirza successfully turned over each and every argument and presented his own case with clear simple logics. The young ISD debaters won the finals on a ballot of 5-15 and Shabab Mirza, with his very eloquent manners and relevant arguments, was announced best speaker of the session.

The most awaited moment had arrived, announcement of the top eighteen speakers of the tournament that were based on individual markings from the preliminary rounds. The top ten debaters were awarded crests and they will be called back again for the interview round with special drills to train the debatersforthe specific requirements of WSDC. For this tournament top three debaters in order of rank were Shabab Mirza (ISD), Aniqa Moinuddin (Mastremind E), Nazm-us-Saadat (Mastermind E).

The efforts of BDC are truly commendable as it so sincerely commits to ensure that Bangladesh is represented in an international arena of debating. Not only does this step open up opportunities for existing debaters but also encourages all those who are interested in this very interactive field

By Aniqa Moinuddin


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