A recent study compares e-readers to those who use traditional books to find out how digital text is impacting our brain.
The cognitive benefits that come from reading are indisputable. However, a recent study suggests that those who access reading material through the printed page have an advantage over those who rely solely on a digital reading experience.
The popularity of e-readers has increased in recent years, with advocates arguing for the practicality of a device like a Kindle, and the cheaper cost of e-books. Those in favor of a physical book prefer the sentimental aspect and the sensory experience that real paper provides. Now it seems that research is on their side.
Part of a Europe-wide research initiative, the study asked 50 readers to read the same Elizabeth George short story, with half using a Kindle and half using paperback. After testing readers on the details of the story, such as objects, settings, and characters, researchers found that those who used a Kindle were “significantly” worse at remembering specifics about the timing of events.
The conclusion? Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study, notes that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does”.
She suggests that a tactile sense of progress which comes from turning pages and feeling the thickness of what you’ve completed, along with the fixity of a text on paper, might be responsible for allowing the reader to digest and remember information.
Mangen also cites a Norwegian study that found that 10th-graders who “read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally”.
It appears that not all reading is equal. This might also be true when it comes to our emotional response to a story. An earlier study by the same researcher found that those who read an upsetting short story via a paper book had greater empathy and immersion than those who read the same book on an iPad.
So, while the battle rages on about the impact of digitisation on the reading experience, you might want to curl up on the couch with a good paperback, and immerse yourself in a very real and tactile journey thanks to the printed page.