Pleasure Reading and College Performance

Sofia Schofield

Pleasure Reading and College Performance

I have lately found myself looking longingly at my bookshelf filled with beloved titles,
fantasizing about curling up on the couch to read Harry Potter or Pride & Prejudice. Instead, I
force myself to open my textbook and scan through countless passages which drone on and on
about emperors who ruled ancient civilizations centuries ago. As an undergraduate, my schedule
is dominated by school assignments. College students expect to spend a significant amount of
time on their studies, but they may find it difficult to balance their responsibilities, let alone
incorporate hobbies such as reading into their schedules. However, without time spent on
activities like pleasure reading, undergraduates may become easily burnt out in their academic
assignments. To investigate this topic, I will address the following questions throughout the
paper: Does reading for pleasure improve the academic performance of college students? If so,
should college students consistently dedicate time to pleasure reading, even if it takes time away
from studying? Does pleasure reading impact non-academic aspects of students’ lives as well?
Although undergraduate students do not have a lot of free time outside of their studies, they
should invest more time in regular pleasure reading in order to reap academic and non-academic
benefits such as creativity, comprehension, writing skills, and empathy.

1. Students’ perspectives of reading

Before examining information about the effects of pleasure reading on undergraduates, it
is necessary to first understand students’ attitudes toward reading, especially those influenced by
lack of time or desire to read. Reading becomes a chore for students when they no longer view it
as an enjoyable activity. Thomas Newkirk, founder of the New Hampshire Literacy Institutes
and English professor at the University of New Hampshire, claims that schools create this lack of

desire to read by assigning textbook passages as the majority of students’ reading homework.
Newkirk argues that textbooks lack in the elements needed to sustain students’ passions for
reading: authorship, form, venue, and duration. He states, “Reading is transformed from an
experience to a task. It concludes not with that special feeling of literary closure — but with a set
of comprehension assignments. Readers lose the sense of autonomy they experience when
reading texts in the original venue, on their own terms” (Newkirk). Therefore, students’
perspectives of reading change due to the monotonous undertaking of textbook reading. Newkirk
continues that the solution for improving students’ reading experiences is to incorporate “truly
authored trade books” into class materials as a replacement for textbooks (Newkirk). As a result
of reading traditional books instead of textbook passages, students’ attitudes towards reading
would adjust to a more favorable view.

2. Traits of students who read for pleasure

The academic outlooks of undergraduates who read for pleasure are driven by
self-actualization, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as the following: “to realize fully one’s
potential.” In a study conducted by William B. Davidson and Jeffrey M. Bromfield of Angelo
State University and Hall P. Beck of Appalachian State University, the researchers predicted that
college students with higher self-actualization scores would have higher positive correlations
with creative expression, academic efficacy, and reading for pleasure, as well as lower negative
correlations with structure dependence, academic apathy, and mistrust of instructors. Four
hundred forty-eight undergraduates were measured in their academic views and creativity levels.
The results were as predicted; students with higher self-actualization scores tended to correlate
positively and negatively with the expected variables. Essentially, the researchers learned that

college students who read for pleasure enjoy being creative, and are productive and successful in
their studies. They view their professors positively, are able to achieve the desired results for
assignments without specific guidelines, and are eager to learn (Bromfield et al. 604-612).
Furthermore, students who spend time reading for pleasure tend to be more creative. This
relationship was found by Kathryn E. Kelly and Lee B. Kneipp. The researchers knew from
previously conducted studies that both pleasure reading and creativity have been found to
correlate with undergraduates’ academic achievement, and hypothesized that pleasure reading
and creativity would have a positive correlation among university students. Two hundred
twenty-five undergraduates were measured in their patterns of pleasure reading and creativity
levels. The results of the study determined that pleasure reading and creativity did correlate
positively as Kelly and Kneipp had hypothesized. From this information, it can be concluded that
students who read for pleasure benefit from higher levels of creativity. It is apparent from this
correlation that creative individuals tend to read more, and students who read more tend to
become more creative (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144). Creativity is a valuable trait to possess,
especially due to the modern emphasis on an entertainment culture. Society seeks entertainment,
and creative people are responsible for satisfying the demand through valuable contributions in
books, movies, music, and more.

3. Conflicting correlations

Kathryn E. Kelly and Lee B. Kneipp cited previous research which stated that reading for
pleasure results in decreased loneliness. Another study they found, however, discussed how the
amount of time spent on pleasure reading correlated negatively with happiness (Kelly and
Kneipp 1137-1144). This research study, conducted by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeremy

Hunter, investigated how various activities affected teenage participants’ happiness. Based on
the participants’ self-reported levels of happiness, pleasure reading was shown to have a negative
correlation with happiness, demonstrating that adolescents who read more tend to be unhappier.
The study suggested a potential reason for this unexpected correlation: “The percent of time
students spend socializing is also positively related to happiness.” Thus, the researchers
hypothesized, the negative correlation between reading and happiness “could be due to the fact
that young people who read more are less often in the company of their peers. There is a slight
negative correlation…between the amount of time spent reading and the percent of time spent
with friends.” This suggests that students who read more tend to spend less time socializing
(Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter 193). If students are happier while socializing than while reading,
how is it possible that those who read have decreased loneliness? This may be because pleasure
reading can lead to a sense of belonging, even if only within the world of literature. For example,
readers can connect with the characters they read about, identifying with the challenges and
triumphs characters face on a personal level. This may lead to decreased loneliness for students
who engage in pleasure reading; students may feel less alone in their experiences after relating to
similar experiences shared by literary characters. In addition, the researchers did not take into
account the idea that pleasure reading can be a social activity. While reading is typically
visualized as a solitary activity, undergraduates can read in the company of other students or in
book clubs, or can read aloud to other people. These reasons may explain why pleasure reading
can correlate with both decreased loneliness and decreased happiness.
It is also important to consider the methods that were used to obtain participants’
happiness levels. As the researchers described, the method used to survey participants “relies on

subjects’ responses to an electronic pager that signals at random times during the waking hours
of the day, yielding up to fty measures of happiness at specic moments during an average
week. Each time the pager signals, the respondents rate their experiential states, including their
levels of happiness” (Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter 186). While the data collected from the
participants was valid, the method to collect it may not have been. Because the method of
acquiring data was based on participants’ responsiveness, it is possible that not all participants
responded when prompted. The researchers also admitted, “Self-reported happiness is less stable
than other dimensions of experience” (Csikszentmihalyi, and Hunter 187). These shortcomings
of the method used in the study may have affected the data collected, and in turn, the conclusions
drawn by the researchers.
4. Pleasure reading benefits may not be apparent to students, but are demonstrated in their work
Although pleasure reading has positive impacts on those who make time to read,
undergraduates may not notice the difference it produces in their work. Rebecca Constantino, a
professor to university students learning English as a second language, hypothesized that
students in her class who read novels instead of textbooks for pleasure would develop different
perspectives of their English reading abilities. In addition, Constantino predicted that her
students would focus more on the meaning of texts instead of individual words. For six weeks,
three of her students read romance novels for pleasure, while two of her students continued
reading university-level textbooks. Constantino’s hypothesis was correct; the students who read
romance novels began to concentrate on comprehension instead of vocabulary. Constantino
observed that these students increased in their understanding of English grammar and vocabulary
in both academic and pleasure reading, as well as in their certainty that they were capable of

reading in English. In addition, Constantino saw that the students who continued reading
textbooks appeared to make no progress, and were discouraged instead of empowered. While
Constantino clearly noticed the benefits of pleasure reading on her students, the students
themselves did not realize that reading novels had improved their comprehension (Constantino
505). Based on these study results, it is likely that undergraduates who read for pleasure may not
notice the positive impacts of reading on their work, similarly to how Constantino’s students did
not notice its effects on their assignments, or even their attitudes.

4. Academic benefits from pleasure reading

Establishing a habit of pleasure reading leads to numerous academic benefits. Thomas
Newkirk stated, “It is plausible—indeed, common sense—to believe that students who read
extensively will develop the fluency, word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension skills, and
confidence needed for proficient reading in…college.” Newkirk also argues that pleasure reading
results in definite academic benefits in college, most obviously reflected in students’
language-related assignments (Newkirk). In the previously mentioned study by Kathryn E. Kelly
and Lee B. Kneipp, the researchers cited a study about academic associations with pleasure
reading. This research study, conducted by David S. Miall and Don Kuiken, proved Newkirk’s
point by finding that students who read more have a greater understanding of academic material,
tolerance of complexity, openness to experience, and psychological absorption. Creativity had
also been found to correlate with motivation (Miall and Kuiken 37-58). Because Kelly and
Kneipp discovered that pleasure reading and creativity are positively correlated, undergraduates
who read more are likely to enjoy these benefits from both pleasure reading and creativity in
their academic pursuits (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144).

Pleasure reading results in improved writing. Sarah Macfadyen, an author for, which offers courses in grammar, proofreading, and editing, wrote a blog article
about the effects of pleasure reading on students’ writing. She quoted Stephen Krashen, author of
Writing: Research, Theory, and Applications, who explained that students who read more tend to
write well: “Those who do more recreational reading show better development in reading,
writing, grammar and vocabulary” (Macfadyen). Because writing is an essential skill for success
in college, where all assignments revolve around students’ writing abilities, it is crucial that
undergraduates seek to develop their writing abilities. Pleasure reading, the unexpected source
from which to improve writing skills, may become more appealing to students who wish to
become better writers.
Pleasure reading also leads to higher GPAs and effective critical thinking skills. In her
dissertation for the University of Tennessee, Kimberly T. Hawkins conducted a study about the
relationship between pleasure reading and critical thinking. To find out how undergraduates’
voluntary reading, critical thinking skills, and GPAs were related, Hawkins tested 119
undergraduates. Hawkins found several positive correlations among her variables, including
positive correlations between critical thinking and voluntary reading, GPA and critical thinking
skills, and voluntary reading and GPA (Hawkins). These results suggested how undergraduates
who regularly read for pleasure tend to have higher critical thinking skills and improved
academic performance. Critical thinking skills, while useful in every situation, may also help
students to become proficient test-takers by assisting them in their abilities to choose effectively
under pressure. These sources demonstrated that students who regularly read for pleasure have
higher GPAs, more developed critical thinking and language skills, and are adept at writing.

5. Non-academic benefits from pleasure reading

Kathryn E. Kelly and Lee B. Kneipp referenced Constantino’s observations of her
English program students, citing her study as evidence that students who read for pleasure have
increased self-efficacy (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144). Self-efficacy was defined as follows by
A. Flammer, a researcher from Switzerland’s University of Berne: “Self-efficacy refers to the
individual’s capacity to produce desired effects. Correspondingly, self-efficacy beliefs are the
beliefs about what means lead to what goals and about possessing the personal capacity to use
these means” (Flammer 13812). As a result, students with a habit of pleasure reading have
confidence in their abilities to achieve goals, whether academic or not.
As aforementioned, Kelly and Kneipp discovered that pleasure reading correlates with
creativity (Kelly and Kneipp 1137-1144). The trait of creativity benefits individuals by leading
them to seek ways to express themselves creatively. In an article for Medical News Today, author
Maria Cohut described how various creative endeavors can lead to improvements in mental and
physical health. For example, she cited studies that showed how learning an instrument
positively impacts brain connectivity, while writing correlates with strong immune systems
(Cohut). Creative expression can benefit undergraduates by helping them find satisfaction and
fulfillment in creative work. Similarly, students can find connection with others through their
creative endeavors. While creativity provides non-academic benefits, it can also be necessary for
academic assignments that require creative thinking. Students with high creativity levels will
find it easier to excel in these assignments.
Pleasure reading causes undergraduates to have increased empathy. Sarah Macfadyen
summarized author Neil Gaiman’s findings about pleasure reading and empathy by declaring,

“Reading supplies a foundation of style and empathetic understanding in ways that formal
education cannot” (Macfadyen). As such, students who read for pleasure develop significant
levels of empathy. Empathy, or striving to understand others’ experiences, can also lead to
improved relationships.
Although writing is clearly an academic benefit, it is beneficial in students’ non-academic
lives as well. The ability to write effectively is the basis of any career, and could mean the
difference between having a job and being unemployed. In the words of author Stephen King, “If
you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write” (Macfadyen).
Consequently, reading affects undergraduates’ writing, and in turn, their careers and more.

6. Conclusion

Undergraduate students’ time is mainly occupied by their studies. However busy they are,
undergraduates should establish a habit of regular pleasure reading in order to receive academic
and non-academic benefits such as increased understanding of material and decreased loneliness.
While spending time on something that takes away from their studies seems counter-intuitive,
college students who read regularly will have an academic advantage. Students should read for
pleasure, but they must obviously do so within reasonable limits by making sure it does not
prevent them from completing their homework. Even if it is not an activity they would typically
devote time to, undergraduates should spend more time reading for pleasure because reading
leads to the development of traits that will assist them in academics and beyond, whether or not
they notice its effects. Next time I reach for a textbook, I hope to read at least a few pages of a
book for pleasure as well. Even if it means a few minutes away from my studies, the long-term
benefits of pleasure reading are worth it.

Works Cited

Bromfield, Jeffrey M., et al. “Beneficial Academic Orientations and Self-Actualization of
College Students.” Psychological Reports, vol. 100, 2007, pp. 604-612,
Cohut, Maria. “What are the health benefits of being creative?” Medical News Today, 16 Feb.
Constantino, Rebecca. “Pleasure Reading Helps, Even If Readers Don’t Believe It.” Journal of
Reading, vol. 37, no. 6, Mar. 1994, pp. 504-505,
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, and Jeremy Hunter. “Happiness in Everyday Life: The Uses of
Experience Sampling.” Journal of Happiness Studies, 17 Feb. 2003, pp. 185-199,
Flammer, A. “Self-efficacy.” International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences,
ScienceDirect, 2001, pp. 13812-13815,
Hawkins, Kimberly T. “Thinking and Reading Among College Undergraduates: An Examination
of the Relationship between Critical Thinking Skills and Voluntary Reading.” PhD diss.,
University of Tennessee, 2012,
Kelly, Kathryn E., and Lee B. Kneipp. “Reading for Pleasure and Creativity among College

Students.” College Student Journal, Part A, vol. 43, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1137-1144,
Macfadyen, Sarah. “It’s in the Pages: Reading for Pleasure Makes for Better Writers.”
Inklyo, Accessed 15 November 2018.
Miall, David S., and Kuiken, Don. “Aspects of Literary Response: A New Questionnaire.”
Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 29, no. 1, Feb. 1995, pp. 37-58,
Newkirk, Thomas. “When Reading Becomes Work.” Independent School. vol. 67, issue 2, 2008,

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