We all know we should read more books. It's just hard to find the time. And if you don't already feel guilty about the pitifully small number of books you've read this year? Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington and President Obama reportedly plow through several books a year despite having jam-packed schedules.
If you struggle to find time to read, here's some good news. Your brain gets the same benefits from listening to books as from reading those words in print. Sure, listening to an audio book takes up to 60% longer. But, you can do so while commuting, doing chores or going about other mindless tasks. It's multi-tasking at its finest! "The average audiobook is 10 hours," claims audiobook superfan Chris Dessi. "If you commute 60 minutes a day, you can listen to about 24 books a year."
Isn't listening to audiobooks cheating? Cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, who's written books such as Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do, hates this question. He wrote a passionate blog post about the topic to set the record straight. (h/t to Science of Us for spotting it.)
Willingham explains that we use the exact same mental processes whether we listen to an audiobook or read the same words on paper. Reading includes two fundamental processes: decoding (figuring out what the words are) and language processing (how we use words to communicate.) Adults are adept decoders. We've been doing it most of our lives.
Most of what we read for leisure -- novels, business books, literature -- is written similar to spoken language. Decoding them isn't actually that difficult. "Most of what you listen to is not that complicated," Willingham explains. "For most books, for most purposes, listening and reading are more or less the same thing."
Willingham explains if the ultimate goal of reading were to decode, and listening to audiobooks somehow did that for you, then they could be considered cheating. "But if appreciating the language and the story is the point, it's not."
For certain types of reading material, having the physical text comes in handy. If you're studying a textbook for an exam or scanning text looking for a fact for a research project, than an audiobook might not be so helpful. But when it comes down to the types of books we read for fun, our brain reads audiobooks and physical books the same.
So maybe it's time to finally cash in on that free Audible audiobook advertised on every podcast ever. And if you were embarrassed to admit how many books you "cheat" listened to, now you don't have to be so secretive.