Functions of Reading and Adults' Reading Interests

By Chen, Su-Yen | Reading Improvement, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview
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Functions of Reading and Adults' Reading Interests

Chen, Su-Yen, Reading Improvement

Using a nationally representative sample in Taiwan, this study found that adult Taiwanese read non-narrative books more often than narrative books. More importantly, this study established associations between functions of reading and reading interests to help gain a better understanding of the nature of adults' reading practices. Adults who see relaxation and enjoyment as the main functions of reading tend to read more literature, fiction, biography/history, and inspirational/religious books. In contrast, adults who perceive the function of reading to be providing topics for social conversation tend to read more books in non-narrative form: family/health, culture/travel, entertainment/fashion, consumption/investment, and science/technology books, and bestsellers. Those Taiwanese adults who see knowledge as the main function of book reading tend to read more inspiration/religion, consumption/investment, and science/technology books, and less romance novels or comic books.


In literate societies, book reading plays a vital role in the lives of many adults. For example, findings from the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) of 1992 indicated that 96% of American adults reported reading books during the previous six months, with 17% reading every day (Smith, 1996). A survey of adults' reading habits in 15 European Union Member States in 2001 found the percentages of European adults reporting having read books within the last 12 month ranged from 15% to more than 50% across 15 member states (Skaliotis, 2002). Yet, little is known about adults' reading practices, since, as defined by Kirsch and Guthrie (1984), studying reading as a practice involves gaining a better understanding of how people interact with qualitatively different types of materials for a variety of uses and functions. Researchers have established that students and adults read in their free time for enjoyment, knowledge, relaxation, social integration, development, utility, escape, or keeping abreast of current events (Greaney & Neuman, 1983; 1990; Kirsch & Guthrie, 1984; Lewis & Teals, 1980; Steinberg, 1979; Stokmans, 1999); however, few studies have linked these functions of reading or attitudes toward reading within specific reading categories.

Attitudes toward reading/functions of reading

Lewis and Teals (1980) have argued that secondary school students' attitudes toward reading may be conceptualized multi-dimensionally as consisting of individual development, utilitarian, and enjoyment factors. The individual development function relates to the value placed on reading as a means of gaining insight into self, others and/or life in general. The utilitarian function relates to the value placed on the role of reading for attaining educational or vocational success or for managing in life, and the enjoyment function relates to the pleasure derived from reading. Later, Ley (1994) and Michell and Ley (1996) utilized the Teale-Lewis Reading Attitudes Scale, and both found that American secondary school students reported valuing reading most because of its utilitarian purposes, and less because of its individual development or enjoyment purposes.

On the other hand, Greaney and Neuman (1983; 1990) have conducted two cross-cultural studies on young people's views of reading. In the first study, they adopted the uses and gratifications approach to explore the functions of reading for students in the third, fifth, and eighth grades in Ireland and the United States, and identified three basic functions for reading: enjoyment, utility, and escape. Later, they examined these three functions of reading for children aged 8, 10 and 13 from 13 countries, and found that reading may serve similar functions across a range of cultural settings for 10- and 13-year-olds. In these studies, the utility function incorporates "reading to learn" from both moral and educational aspects. The enjoyment function depicts reading as enjoyable, interesting and exciting, while the escapist function relates to reading in order to relax and to prevent boredom.

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