Does the Brain Prefer Paper?

April 17, 2014

In our tech savie world where young children are using digital devices to the point of not grasping how a printed magazine works – for example the viral YouTube video in the past two years where a one-year-old girl plays with an iPad, sweeping her fingers across its touch screen and shuffling groups of icons. In following scenes, she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they, too, are screens. Melodramatically, the video replays these gestures in close-up. A question needs to be asked, “What do our brains prefer?” paper books

“Kids remembered more details from stories they read on paper than ones they read in e-books enhanced with interactive animations, videos and games. These bells and whistles deflected attention away from the narrative toward the device itself. In a follow-up survey of 1,226 parents, the majority reported that they and their children prefer print books over e-books when reading together.

From the magazine “Scientific American”: “Since at least the 1980s researchers in psychology, computer engineering, and library and information science have published more than 100 studies exploring differences in how people read on paper and on screens. Before 1992 most experiments concluded that people read stories and articles on screens more slowly and remember less about them. As the resolution of screens on all kinds of devices sharpened, however, a more mixed set of findings began to emerge. Recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when they need to concentrate for a long time—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and as reading digital texts for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up more than 20 percent of all books sold to the general public.

“At least a few studies suggest that screens sometimes impair comprehension precisely because they distort people’s sense of place in a text. In a January 2013 study by Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her colleagues, 72 10th grade students studied one narrative and one expository text.

Half the students read on paper, and half read PDF files on computers. Afterward, students completed reading comprehension tests, during which they had access to the texts. Stu- dents who read the texts on computers per- formed a little worse, most likely because they had to scroll or click through the PDFs one section at a time, whereas students reading on paper held the entire texts in their hands and quickly switched between different pages. “The ease with which you can find out the beginning, end, and everything in between and the constant connection to your path, your progress in the text, might be some way of making it less taxing cognitively,” Mangen says. “You have more free capacity for comprehension.”

Read the full article by by FERRIS JABR here.