Our Growing Obsession With Screens Is Killing Our Brains

Paperback readers, rejoice! It turns out reading books on e-readers doesn’t give your brain the same experience as those paper books gathering dust on your bookshelf.

A new study by European researchers found that recollection of plot points and story lines were “significantly” worse for readers who read on a Kindle versus a paperback book, the Guardian reports.

Fifty readers were given a mystery book to read; half were given a Kindle, and the other half, a paperback. The researchers, led by Anne Mangen from the University of Stavanger in Norway, discovered that reading on a Kindle prevented readers from comprehending the literature as well as reading it on paper.

Mangen presented the work at a conference in Italy in July, the Guardian reported, and the study will be published as a paper.

“The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, i.e, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order,” Mangen told the newspaper.

Does Paper Or PDF Really Matter?

The Kindle versus paperback study is a very small sample and thus prone to all sorts of uncertainties, but it falls in line with a growing body of evidence on reading comprehension of digital material.

Last year, Mangen analyzed reading comprehension of 72 10th graders. She broke the students into two groups: One group received information on paper and the other read PDFs on a computer screen. She found that students who read on the computer screens comprehended less than their paper-reading peers, and students who read digital copies of information forgot it much quicker.

It’s not just reading that could be suffering, but writing too. As handwriting and cursive notebooks are replaced by iPads and laptops, educational development in students who are just beginning to read and write creatively could be negatively affected.

Psychologists and researchers are studying why handwriting is so important, especially in child development. One study found that when a child drew a letter on paper, activity in their brains increased in the same three areas of the brain that are activated when adults read and write, the New York Times reports. That activity did not happen when the child typed the letter.

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

The importance of handwriting can follow students through college, too. When students take notes with laptops, they perform worse on conceptual questions than students who take notes longhand, by writing them down in a notebook, according to a 2014 study.

Don’t throw out your pulp fiction and notebooks just yet—they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If people begin to rely solely on computer screens for reading and writing as our books are replaced by digital copies, comprehension may suffer.

Then again, forgetting a book might not be such a bad thing, considering you can read it, and enjoy it, all over again.

Lead image by Selena Larson for ReadWrite

Facebook Comments