Can you be Smart without Reading Books?

There are a few people who believe being smart is all about having a high IQ. They have restricted the term to the obvious geniuses; the ones talked about in the history section of our science classes. You’ll often hear names like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, and the ones currently dominating the scene like Elon Musk. Don’t get me wrong, these guys are absolutely amazing. However, you do not have to discover a groundbreaking scientific principle or paint a masterclass like Leonardo Davinci to be considered smart. Being smart is actually less complicated than that.

A perfect example of this would be to consider your high school or college. There’s always that one kid who didn’t appear to study as much or as hard as the rest of us, but manages to get near perfect grades. Then there’s the kid who is charmingly witty and capable of thinking on his feet. To be considered smart is to have adequate cognitive abilities that help you succeed in both your personal and professional endeavors. If intelligence is the acquisition and application of knowledge, then being smart is the application of quick-witted intelligence.

So, back to the question; can you be smart without reading books? Over the years, scientists have sought to answer that question. After extensive study and research on expanding the capacity of the brain to carry out cognitive function by reading books, scientists have revealed that there are certain ways in which reading makes you smart. A few of those ways include;

Reading books promotes cognitive growth

From our days in kindergarten, growth was measured by the ability to read, and not just read, but do so coherently. The reason why reading has been the yardstick to measure brain growth is as a result of the effect that reading has on the brain. When you read books, you stimulate the unique ability of your brain to comprehend complex information and improve on its ability to think critically, which is important in developing your cognitive abilities.

Reading more books also increases your knowledge and improves your thinking faculty and ability. People who want to get smarter are often advised to stock up their book shelves with mind stimulating books that would sharpen their ability to think and analyse complex information.

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development further supports this point. Piaget classifies the stages of students and children’s cognitive development into four stages, from birth up to 25 years of age. Reading was a crucial component of the growth process.

When students read in an interesting and interactive way, they are motivated, most times, to be more voracious with reading books, because reading stimulates the brain and generates more curiosity which eventually results in more and more reading.

Increases language proficiency and communication skills

One of the hallmarks of being smart is a good grasp of the complexities of language and the ability to communicate fluently and effectively. When you spend enough time reading, you encounter complex words and, in an attempt, to figure out the meaning of those words and how they are used in sentences, you improve your knowledge of language in general.

Additionally, reading books can improve your ability to communicate on a standard level. When you read sufficiently, you develop a unique ability to understand the thoughts, facts and ideas of the writer. This also has real life applications. As a result of consistent reading, comprehension of other people’s thoughts and ideas become easier.

Reading increases your chance of succeeding

The ultimate goal in life is to succeed. It’s not exactly breaking news that in order to succeed and attain unimaginable heights, you require an average level of cognitive function. Generally, one of the main ingredients to achieve success in any field is being knowledgeable in that field. Books are reservoirs of knowledge. Reading Books that explicitly teach on the principles of success is absolutely key to succeeding in your specific career and, by extension, life in general. Whether you are an entrepreneur, student or professional, there are books that are written to help you succeed.

Alternative Ways to Becoming Smart

It is not news that books are absolutely important to being smart. For most people, in the quest to be smart, they believe the place of books can never be replaced. But what about those with dyslexia? Individuals who are unable to read or people with a psychological limitation hindering them from reading. Does that mean they can’t be smart? Absolutely not. There are helpful alternatives that can replace reading.

These alternatives listed here are suitable for people with a physical or psychological condition that may prevent them from picking a book from a bookshelf and filling themselves up with knowledge.


Apart from being a form of entertainment, audiobooks save us time. They allow us to binge on information, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is, however, interesting to note that audiobooks also have certain benefits to the brain and can make us smarter. Here are a few ways in which audiobooks can make you smarter.

Improved Vocabulary And Comprehension

Playing an audiobook, while in the car or doing the dishes, not only provides you with useful information on the subject, but enhances your cognitive and comprehension ability, just as your vocabulary is positively affected. Kids also are great beneficiaries of the benefits of Audiobooks. The idea for elementary school students to repeat words aloud for easy comprehension is employed by audiobooks.

In an interview with Scholastic, Mary Beth Crosby Carroll from the The Children School in New York says that following along a tutorial or subject visually while listening can significantly enhance your word-recognition ability. She adds that listening alone is a great way to expand vocabulary. Audiobooks provide intonations and clues in context for listeners to better understand the meaning and usage of certain words.

Audiobooks can also help improve imagination

No doubt an attribute that well written books with properly constructed grammar will achieve, but according to several studies, Audiobooks can also help your brain create vivid imaginations of a particular story. An example of such study is one conducted by the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. This study showed that the human brain is more likely to create tangible imagery when we listen to the story, rather than when we just read it. This might explain why children would prefer stories read to them.

Audiobooks can help you form deeper meaning than most phrases

There is so much that goes on when you read a book. You have to compensate for so many gaps like filling in a voice, accent, sound and setting. These are absolutely important if your mind is going to be successful at creating a detailed picture.

Dr Art Markman, a researcher at the University of Texas released a recent study on the possibility that hearing a proverb results in better comprehension than just reading it. The results showed that hearing a proverb makes our brains associate the meaning with other proverbs with deeper meanings, hence improving comprehension.

Markman believes that because of the inability to easily re-read the proverbs, we force our brains to extract the meaning quicker. In order words, listening to audiobooks enables your mind to grasp information at a much quicker rate.


Podcasts are a great way to gain sufficient information without having to carry heavy books around. If you are in search of information but absolutely dislike picking up books, then a Podcasts may just be the solution for you. There are numerous works of literature available online that you don’t have to break the bank for, as well as those you can even get for free. These will either be read to you by the author or a competent reader. The same can be said for podcasts, available on a wide range of subjects including lectures from a university, History lessons and even Interviews.

Several Podcasts like Hardcore HistoryThe Story Engine, and The Memory Palace offer the full package of spoken word, history and story-telling altogether.

There have been several studies on the mental and psychological benefits of podcasts. One study showed that podcasts can help improve mental imagery better than reading or watching. This is because of the extra attention listeners pay to these podcasts. Additionally, people who spend a lot of time listening to podcasts as opposed to merely watching them have a more intense and clear imaginative ability. This is because, listening to podcasts forces the listener to constantly create a mental picture which may not be clear at first, but with constant practice it becomes clearer and stronger.

Podcasts can also improve your listening ability. Since podcasts only involve listening, they establish in you the need to always listen. Podcasts allow you to become fully immersed in what you are listening to before forming the mental image in your head.

Another obviously amazing benefit of using podcasts is that you learn more new things which expands your knowledge in that area and, by extension, making you smarter.

Youtube Videos

If you grew up like me, then you were probably told television was bad for your brain and would make you less smart. Well, I wonder what they’re telling kids nowadays that the Internet has almost replaced television in terms of influence. With that influence comes numerous other possibilities. Youtube is, perhaps, the biggest online streaming platform in the world. As a result of most of its users being young adults, you can get lost in this platform watching several mind numbing, but ridiculously hilarious cat videos and memes, among other things.

However, you can also use this online platform as a learning tool. There are numerous Youtube channels available that are dedicated to information and education. Exposing yourself to such channels can actually make you smarter. They can improve your knowledge and skill which, when applied in real life, can actually make you smarter and more informed. A few of these educational channels include Minute Physics, Vsauce, Mental Floss, TED Talks, Wisecrack and many more.

Online Courses

Over the years, online courses have become increasingly popular, as both conventional and non-conventional learners have begun to utilize the opportunity presented by online classes which include; flexibility, cheaper tuition and several other opportunities academically. But that is not all. Online courses are more preferred by learners as a result of the ease with which they learn, even while they do other things.

Researchers at the Santa Clara University, in 2019, took a survey among people who took online classes, asking them about the effect of online courses on their learning journey. Participants were asked questions regarding their inability to physically interact with their professors and fellow peers, how easy or difficult it was to study in a virtual system, and if after their experience they would recommend studying online to other people. In the results, more than half of the participants acknowledged the benefits taking online classes presented mentally.

Online courses make learning faster and easier because you learn in a much comfortable and familiar environment. Another way in which online courses are much easier to study than offline courses is in the flexible learning schedule. Learners have more time to relax in between lectures and, as a result, do not feel overwhelmed.

As a result of the easy nature of learning online, you gain much more knowledge, and become smarter.


Watching a movie or TV series can be an excellent way to relax on a cold, rainy day. However, instead of watching another romantic or suspense filled movie, you can substitute that for a thought provoking and mentally stimulating documentary. Documentaries do not only entertain; they also inform and educate. In fact, most historically or scientifically accurate facts have been put into documentary forms for viewers to learn.

Documentaries convey an impressive variety of topics, ranging from art, science and history to politics, wars and government, making its viewers more enlightened in those areas. The facts presented in these documentaries have been thoroughly examined to test for factual accuracy. These are then mixed with the magic of filmmaking that now makes it stimulating and captivating to watch.

In more ways than one, documentaries provide a more interesting narrative than what you may get when you read a book. Additionally, this visual medium is able to capture specific moments clearly and accurately, giving you a clear picture (literally) of the events. Documentaries can be found all over the internet, and as such are easily accessible.


We have talked about how podcasts can be very helpful in providing information. However, if podcasts are not your thing, you can consider going to the lecture hall. In these lectures, it is the job of the lecturer to teach, train and enlighten the students on a number of topics. The lecturer ensures no student lags behind as he employs educational methods in coaching his students. In the event you still do not fully understand, you are always free to ask questions and obtain clarity on anything.

Attending lectures can do a lot to make you smarter. Lectures provide avenues for you to broaden your horizon. You are packed with knowledge and clarity, which are key ingredients to making you smart. Little wonder students who do not skip lectures have a better chance at scoring higher grades.

If you are not a student, there is no need to panic, there are lectures in the university, city halls and conference centers that are open to the general public, where people can just walk in and learn from the experts.


Museums are primarily for education and enlightenment of the community. Museums help to spark interest in any field, time period or area of study. These reservoirs of history are closely tied to education, far more than you might imagine. More recently, most schools are beginning to rely on museums to broaden their curriculum. An example is The New York Museum Education Act which aims to create and establish a partnership between schools and these institutions that promote cultural values, in order to better prepare their students.

Everyday museum galleries are evolving, becoming more than just a place for art displays and transforming into classrooms for teaching students and visitors all they need to know about artefacts, sculptures, manuscripts and other historical objects and their history. A museum contains information and historical knowledge that educate and inspire visitors. It is almost impossible to leave a museum without picking up sufficient information during your visit that will make you significantly smarter.

There is a lot more you can learn from the amazing experience of visiting a museum, rather than just picking up any book and reading about it.


While there are many people who just restrict being smart to excelling at school with very good grades or being top of your class. There are experts who do not entirely agree with that notion. Scientists believe that being smart is also as a result of constant communication with other people. They believe that more and solid social interactions are integral to being smart and remaining that way.

University of Michigan’s Social psychologist; Oscar Ybarra reveals that the higher rate of social interactions people has, the more those interactions improve their cognitive ability. Ybarra wondered if people were smart just because of these social interactions or if they remained smart as a result of them. So, he embarked on several experiments. He divided his participants into three distinct groups. People in the first group were given 10 minutes to argue on a certain topic.

He also established a control group, consisting of people who watched a video clip for a period of 10 minutes, but were prevented from interacting with each other.

In the last group, Ybarra made the participants engage in at least 10 minutes of intense puzzles, brain teasers and several other mental exercises that are recommended for staying sharp.

Then he proceeded to test the participants’ cognitive ability by testing their memory, and how quickly they could commit things to memory. The results showed both groups performing significantly better than the participants of the control group, which are the people that just watched television.

Ybarra further revealed that social interactions do have significant cognitive benefits. He opined that being around others has very useful stimulating effects, but that people need to be actively engaged between themselves and understand each other’s perspective, their reasons for such perspectives and other factors in order to truly reap the cognitive benefits associated with social interactions.

Do books really make you smarter?

From when we learnt to walk, our teachers have always managed to squeeze a book into our hands to tell us of its many benefits, most of which include turning a dullard into a genius. As it turns out, they were right. Reading books offers several benefits which we have listed at the beginning. Among the many is that reading books can actually make you smarter.

Ultimately, you can think of reading in terms of the way it changes the way the brain works rather than an activity that improves your level of intelligence. Reading books may not have the ability to change any of your baseline abilities, but it can help increase the amount of facts you know, help you improve your pattern identification skill, ensure your brain connectivity is pervasive and generally improve your empathy.

All of this research on how reading influences the mind leaves us with hope. As a paper by Keith E. Stanovich and Anne E. Cunningham  that examines children and reading concludes; reading produces significant benefits for everyone. This doesn’t only refer to those we call “smart kids” or those who can read better. The authors suggest that even the despair faced by teachers to change their students’ abilities can be prevented by what they term a “partially malleable habit” with the ability to develop abilities. And that is reading!

Reading books may not be a “one size fits all” solution to boosting your intelligence, but it is able to make a significant difference if you decide to pick up a book and actually read. Now, let us look at the ways in which reading can affect your cognition.

Crystallized Intelligence

This is referred to as a summation of all the factual information, data and figures that you know. Proficiency in this area is often referred to as being “Book Smart”. Reading more books can help you develop your crystallized intelligence.

Fluid Intelligence

When it comes to fluid intelligence, we’re dealing with a more abstract concept. You are able to solve more problems, figure out nuclear patterns, and possess knowledge that is independent of crystallized intelligence.

Reading books and developing fluid intelligence are somewhat reciprocal in nature. Reading more books trains your brain on how to sharpen your detection of meaningful patterns. As more of these connections are made, you get a more detailed understanding of what you’re reading.

Emotional Intelligence

Being able to make these associations is also a characteristic of being emotionally intelligent. In the year 2013, Psychologist Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd  both published a paper that showed that reading works of fiction can help improve the Theory of Mind.

The Theory of Mind is basically an assessment of a person’s empathy, and his ability to detect and comprehend how other people feel and think. This shows that people who constantly read fiction are able to identify other people’s emotions better than people who don’t. This is as a result of the fact that the psychological processes are used to navigate the twists and plots of fiction and real relationships.

In one simple assertion, Author Derek Beres sums it up by saying we practice being human by reading.

Brain Connectivity

Perhaps the most interesting way in which reading can make you smarter is the manner in which it increases connectivity in the brain. While reading, you are not just dealing with the parts of the brain that are in charge of language, but also the parts that handle sensation and movement.

According to a study that involved undergraduates who were assigned to read through a novel by Robert Harris titled Pompeii, researchers found out that the connections between the central sulcus, which is the aspect of the brain in charge of movement and physical feelings and the left temporal cortex, which is also known as the brain’s language center, were boosted.

Are those people who read smarter than those who don’t?

Now here is a very controversial question. There are those who believe people that read extensively are intellectually superior to those who don’t. Conversely, there are also those who believe that reading books in itself does not make any one person smarter than another, but the level of intelligence does.

Knowledge, and its application is the only yardstick to truly judge who is smart. There is no scientific evidence to support the train of thought that suggests that reading makes a person smarter than those who don’t. When a person exhaustively consumes knowledge in any form, whether through Podcasts, Audiobooks, Museums or through Socialization, the amount of knowledge consumed is all that really matters. Books in itself do not make you smart. Instead, the knowledge within the book that one takes and applies is what does the magic.

Concluding thoughts…

In conclusion, knowledge is an important factor for success. Books contain knowledge of endless value and, although these books are important to being smart, there are a few other competent alternatives. These alternatives could very well replace the use of books in the future. In fact, the use of online courses and YouTube videos in learning have seen an upward surge in recent times that could continue and render conventional methods of gaining knowledge like picking up a book, obsolete.

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