Classic children's adventure books such as Swallows & Amazons and Famous Five were revealed as having the greatest impact on our personalities and interests as we develop into adults. A survey that we have recently conducted has revealed that the kind of books we choose to read as children have a clear impact on the personality traits and interests we develop as adults.
One thousand UK respondents aged between 18 and 65 were asked to select one of a number of children's book groups, which most accurately described their reading tastes as children. Next, they were asked to select three personality traits and three hobbies that best described how they are, and what they enjoy now. The data was then analysed to determine trends and patterns, and found that children's adventure books such as Swallows and Amazons had the biggest impact on our adult personalities, followed by more serious titles such as Anne Frank.
People who read fantasy titles such as The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter were the most likely to describe themselves as imaginative (25.4%) and have an interest in astronomy (6.8%), whereas people who read soft horror/gore titles such as Goosebumps and Horrible Histories were most likely to consider themselves to be brave (14.7%) and enjoy spirituality/ghost hunting (12%).
Readers of fun, imagination books such as The Cat in the Hat revealed themselves to be the cheekiest (14.4%) and wittiest (15.6%) and have the greatest interest in gaming (23.3%), whereas people who read more serious titles such as The Diary of Anne Frank and War Horse were most likely to say that their leading personality traits were honesty (50%) followed by intellect (25%). They also proved themselves to be the most charitable, with 19% of readers citing volunteering as an interest.
Fans of classic adventure books such as Swallows & Amazons, Famous Five etc. described themselves as handy/resourceful (22%) and law-abiding (24.9%), and expressed the greatest interest in puzzles (21.7%).
The study also analysed book selection by city: with The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear most popular in Edinburgh (27%) in contrast to The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia etc. in Liverpool (29%) and Swallows & Amazons, Famous Five etc. in Newcastle (22%).
Overall, the data revealed clear correlations between book themes and associated interests/traits, and while less common hobbies/interests such as astronomy, volunteering etc. were not heavily selected across the board, there was an evident association between a heightened level of interest in a more niche hobby, and the reading of a related book group.
The study also acknowledged the benefits of reading books that spanned a variety of genres in order to develop an interest in a broad range of hobbies, and guide young readers towards adopting traits that would help ensure a well-rounded personality. Parents who may wish their children to be intellectual but honest, sporty, compassionate and witty could, for example, encourage the reading of Winnie the Pooh, Famous Five, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Cat in the Hat and Charlotte's Web.
Sue Palmer, literacy specialist and author of many books on child development (including Toxic Child and 21st Century Boys) said: "It is not surprising that favourite books from childhood affect our personalities as we grow older. Not only are stories emotionally and intellectually stimulating, but reading, or even listening to a book read aloud, engages our attention in a very active way. So when mum or dad shares a favourite book as a bedtime story, it's a special experience. And when children discover their own favourites, it's like making new friends.
Screen-based entertainment, like TV or a computer game, tends to be a transitory experience. But good books live on in children's minds, affecting the way they think and behave. And for parents, there's the reassurance that children's fiction is written for children, by people who care about their welfare, so the influence it exerts is hugely positive.
Claudia Mody, Children's Book Buying Director at Book People said: "We know that many children have a favourite book genre or type of book, but we were surprised to discover just how much our childhood reading choices shape us in adult life. Encouraging children to read a mix of books is only ever going to have a positive effect on personal development, and they may discover something new that they love!