Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Reading for pleasure in adolescence did not yield any benefits for mental health in a large longitudinal study

Murray, Aja L., Patrick Errington, Yi Yang, Daniel Mirman, Ingrid Obsuth, Tom Booth, Denis Ribeaud, et al. 2023. “Is Reading for Pleasure in Adolescence Good for Mental Health? A Counterfactual and Within-person Analysis in a Large Longitudinal Study.” PsyArXiv. January 25.

Abstract: Reading has been proposed to be a protective factor in mental health; however, testing this is made challenging by the vulnerability of the reading-mental health association to confounding. In this study, we used two complementary approaches to address this: propensity score matching and random intercepts cross-lagged panel models (RI-CLPM) in a large longitudinal study: the Zurich Project on Social Development from Childhood to Adulthood (z-proso). For the counterfactual analyses, mental health outcomes of anxiety, depression, and psychosis-like symptoms were measured at ages 17 and 20 and reading engagement was measured at ages 15 and 17. Matching variables included a wide range of factors potentially related to reading and mental health outcomes and when matched with respect to these covariates, there was no consistent effect of reading for pleasure on anxiety, depression, and psychosis. Similarly, using an RI-CLPM to account for between-person stable confounding factors suggested no evidence for a positive effect of reading on later mental health across ages 13,15,17 and 20. The only significant effects were detrimental effects of reading on anxiety and psychosis at age 20 when using non-bi-partite matching. Future research over shorter time lags is recommended to explore whether reading has shorter term benefits for mental health.