Scientific American: The brain prefers paper for reading

 

By Warren Volkmann, Editor
HP Developers' Program

A YouTube video of a toddler swiping and pressing images in a magazine fueled the popular debate between paper and digital readers back in 2011. The video, A Magazine is an iPad that Does Not Work, has been watched almost 5 million times.

In 2013, Scientific American editors took on the debate, reviewing research that compared reading on paper to reading on screen.

“How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read?” wrote Associate Editor Ferris Jabr. “As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?”

Their conclusion is clear from the title of their report: Why the Brain Prefers Paper

The review found that “e-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve, but reading on paper still has its advantages. Studies in the past two decades indicate that people often understand and remember text on paper better than on a screen. Screens may inhibit comprehension by preventing people from intuitively navigating and mentally mapping long texts. Preliminary research suggests that even so-called digital natives are more likely to recall the gist of a story when they read it on paper because enhanced e-books and e-readers themselves are too distracting. Paper’s greatest strength may be its simplicity.”

Read Jabr’s full analysis: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens