For the love of reading: Recreational reading reduces psychological distress in college students and autonomous motivation is the key

J Am Coll Health. 2022 Jan;70(1):158-164. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2020.1728280. Epub 2020 Mar 9.


Objective: Reading is often cited as beneficial for one's mental health, but the research on this topic is limited. The goal of the present research was to examine whether recreational reading is beneficial for mental health during college, and to determine what motivates recreational reading.

Participants: Participants were 231 university students from a large Canadian University. Methods: A longitudinal design was employed and students completed online surveys on recreational reading, motivation, psychological distress and need frustration at the beginning and end of the academic year. Results: Recreational reading was associated with reduced psychological distress over the school year. Recreational reading seemed to buffer against the frustration of one's basic psychological needs which led to improved mental health over the school year. Students who were more autonomously motivated reported reading more books recreationally. Conclusion: Recreational reading is a simple and cost-effective tool to help college students cope with mental health problems.

Keywords: Autonomous motivation; mental health; need frustration reading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Psychological Distress*
  • Reading
  • Students* / psychology
  • Universities