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People who read live longer than those who don’t, Yale researchers say

The benefits of reading should not be understated, even when it comes to living a longer life. A new study finds that reading books in particular returns cognitive gains that increase longevity.

People who read live longer than those who don’t, Yale researchers say

Bookworms rejoice! A new study in the journal Social Science and Medicine just discovered that people who read books live longer than people who don't.

Researchers at Yale University asked 3,635 participants over 50 years-old about their reading habits. From that data, they split the cohort into 3 groups: non-readers, people who read less than 3.5 hours per week, and people who read more than 3.5 hours per week. The researchers followed up with each group for 12 years. The people who read the most were college-educated women in the higher-income group.

Over the course of the study, the researchers consistently found that both groups of readers lived longer than the non-readers. The readers who read over 3.5 hours a week lived a full 23 months longer than the people who didn't read at all. That extended lifespan applied to all reading participants, regardless of "gender, wealth, education or health" factors, the study explains. That's a 20% reduction in mortality created by a sedentary activity. That's a big deal, and a very easy fix for improving quality of life in anyone over 50.

Credit: Social Science and Medicine

The results get better. “Compared to non-book readers," the authors continue, “book readers had a 4-month survival advantage," at the age when 20% of their peers passed away. “Book readers also experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers." The authors continue:

"Further, our analyses demonstrated that any level of book reading gave a significantly stronger survival advantage than reading periodicals. This is a novel finding, as previous studies did not compare types of reading material; it indicates that book reading rather than reading in general is driving a survival advantage."

The reason books had greater gains than periodicals is because book reading involves more cognitive faculties. The readers didn't begin with higher cognitive faculties than the non-readers; they simply engaged in the activity of reading, which heightened those faculties. “This finding suggests that reading books provide a survival advantage due to the immersive nature that helps maintain cognitive status," said the study's authors.

As any book lover knows, reading involves two major cognitive processes: deep reading, and emotional connection. Deep reading is a slow process where the reader engages with the book and seeks to understand it within its own context and within the context of the outside world. Emotional connection is where the reader empathizes with the characters, and that promotes social perception and emotional intelligence. Those cognitive processes were cited by the Yale team and used as markers for this study. While they apparently offer a survival advantage, “better health behaviors and reduced stress may explain this process [as well]," according to the study. Still, those cognitive benefits are real, as writer Nicholas Sparr explains:

All the data was self-reported via phone survey and it didn't really account for ebooks, but it's still encouraging. There are no real downsides to reading, other than making the time for it. But if you're not convinced and would rather have John Green teach you literature instead of reading the classics for yourself, philosopher and Yale University Dean Jeffrey Brenzel lays out 5 additional pro-reading benefits for you:

Happy reading!

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A clever new study definitively measures how long it takes for quantum particles to pass through a barrier.

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When it comes to weird behavior, there's nothing quite like the quantum world. On top of that world-class head scratcher entanglement, there's also quantum tunneling — the mysterious process in which particles somehow find their way through what should be impenetrable barriers.

Exactly why or even how quantum tunneling happens is unknown: Do particles just pop over to the other side instantaneously in the same way entangled particles interact? Or do they progressively tunnel through? Previous research has been conflicting.

That quantum tunneling occurs has not been a matter of debate since it was discovered in the 1920s. When IBM famously wrote their name on a nickel substrate using 35 xenon atoms, they used a scanning tunneling microscope to see what they were doing. And tunnel diodes are fast-switching semiconductors that derive their negative resistance from quantum tunneling.

Nonetheless, "Quantum tunneling is one of the most puzzling of quantum phenomena," says Aephraim Steinberg of the Quantum Information Science Program at Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto to Live Science. Speaking with Scientific American he explains, "It's as though the particle dug a tunnel under the hill and appeared on the other."

Steinberg is a co-author of a study just published in the journal Nature that presents a series of clever experiments that allowed researchers to measure the amount of time it takes tunneling particles to find their way through a barrier. "And it is fantastic that we're now able to actually study it in this way."

Frozen rubidium atoms

Image source: Viktoriia Debopre/Shutterstock/Big Think

One of the difficulties in ascertaining the time it takes for tunneling to occur is knowing precisely when it's begun and when it's finished. The authors of the new study solved this by devising a system based on particles' precession.

Subatomic particles all have magnetic qualities, and they spin, or "precess," like a top when they encounter an external magnetic field. With this in mind, the authors of the study decided to construct a barrier with a magnetic field, causing any particles passing through it to precess as they did so. They wouldn't precess before entering the field or after, so by observing and timing the duration of the particles' precession, the researchers could definitively identify the length of time it took them to tunnel through the barrier.

To construct their barrier, the scientists cooled about 8,000 rubidium atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. In this state, they form a Bose-Einstein condensate, AKA the fifth-known form of matter. When in this state, atoms slow down and can be clumped together rather than flying around independently at high speeds. (We've written before about a Bose-Einstein experiment in space.)

Using a laser, the researchers pusehd about 2,000 rubidium atoms together in a barrier about 1.3 micrometers thick, endowing it with a pseudo-magnetic field. Compared to a single rubidium atom, this is a very thick wall, comparable to a half a mile deep if you yourself were a foot thick.

With the wall prepared, a second laser nudged individual rubidium atoms toward it. Most of the atoms simply bounced off the barrier, but about 3% of them went right through as hoped. Precise measurement of their precession produced the result: It took them 0.61 milliseconds to get through.

Reactions to the study

Scientists not involved in the research find its results compelling.

"This is a beautiful experiment," according to Igor Litvinyuk of Griffith University in Australia. "Just to do it is a heroic effort." Drew Alton of Augustana University, in South Dakota tells Live Science, "The experiment is a breathtaking technical achievement."

What makes the researchers' results so exceptional is their unambiguity. Says Chad Orzel at Union College in New York, "Their experiment is ingeniously constructed to make it difficult to interpret as anything other than what they say." He calls the research, "one of the best examples you'll see of a thought experiment made real." Litvinyuk agrees: "I see no holes in this."

As for the researchers themselves, enhancements to their experimental apparatus are underway to help them learn more. "We're working on a new measurement where we make the barrier thicker," Steinberg said. In addition, there's also the interesting question of whether or not that 0.61-millisecond trip occurs at a steady rate: "It will be very interesting to see if the atoms' speed is constant or not."

Self-driving cars to race for $1.5 million at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ​

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