New research centre to explore impact of reading on health

Judge Marko Bošnjak

The University of Liverpool has launched a new research centre that will explore how reading can help improve serious health conditions, such as depression, dementia and chronic pain.

The Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems is being led by researchers in literature from the University’s School of English, but will be based in the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society so that psychologists, medics and literary experts can work together to understand the real impacts that reading can have on the health and wellbeing of global communities.

Researchers in literature, health, linguistics, psychology, social anthropology and digital technologies, are collaborating on projects aimed at taking reading practices out of universities and into communities and healthcare professions.

Working with the national charity the Reader Organisation, experts will provide research evidence to show the value of community reading-groups, to inform healthcare policy, and to help the medical profession explore treatments that can be related to the individual patient.

The Centre is leading a range of research projects that relate specifically to reading and mental health, targeting the problems of depression and dementia and examining the value of shared reading. Projects include work with looked-after children and pupils struggling in schools; older people in care homes and hospital wards; and young women in prisons who self-harm.

Researchers have recently completed a study evaluating the effect of shared literature in addressing depressive symptoms. The project ran two weekly reading sessions in a Liverpool GP surgery and drop-in centre for adults diagnosed with depression. The report showed a statistically significant improvement in well-being, which provides the basis for further research.

Other work includes research into new digital technologies. Researchers are employing new data mining techniques within healthcare to help protect patients’ personal information. Researchers are also looking at new technology that could help show the different turns a narrative can take at key psychological moments of particular life-choices. The technology could be used in the gaming industry, creative writing, and as part of health care for simulating real-life scenarios to help patients understand their personal decision-making processes.

Professor Philip Davis, Director of the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems, said: “Study has already shown that literature, and particularly reading as a group, can help people recognise and explore meaning in human life. Fiction and poetry can provide a language in which to think personally and emotionally about life, and the very act of reading, whether alone or in a group, provides a place for this kind of thinking.

“The aim of the Centre is to take literature out of the confines of an academic discipline and into the service of real lives at a number of different levels. The first stage of this work uses university-trained readers to set up and maintain reading groups in hard-to-reach communities. Secondly, through evaluating this work, we can show funders and public-policy makers that these practices have an effect on health and can be employed at low cost. This is the reading revolution.”

Professor Peter Kinderman, Head of the Institute for Psychology, Health and Society, said: “The Centre will create unique collaborations between the arts and health sciences, providing new approaches to the provision of healthcare. Working together will ensure that new and relevant questions are asked about current health care systems, which will ultimately feed into health policy and improving the wellbeing of whole communities.”

Collaborators in study at the Centre include, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport; the Ministry of Justice; Mersey Care NHS Trust; Liverpool Primary Care Trust; Liverpool Children’s Services; National Personality Disorder Unit; the Public Engagement Foundation; and Mental Health Foundation.


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