Readers absorb less from Kindles than paper books, study finds

A study has found that people absorb ‘significantly’ less when reading books from a Kindle than when reading from their paper counterparts.

As part of Europe-wide research examining the effects of digitisation on the reading experience, 50 readers were given the same 28-page short story by Elizabeth George and asked to read it – half of them using a Kindle, half on paper.

They were then asked questions relating to characters and settings, among other things. According to the Guardian, the lead researcher on the study, Anne Mangen, found that ‘the Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie. when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.’

It has been suggested that it’s harder for readers to mentally connect with the story as a result of a lack of haptic and tactile feedback from the Kindle.

‘When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right,’ Mangen told the Guardian. ‘You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual.’ This is precisely where the Kindle falls short – the sense of progress is more arbitrary, represented only by a page number and a percentage.

This research seems to suggest that it is more difficult for us to pay attention to details when reading from a Kindle, and could be linked to the fact that our attention spans have shortened – as a direct result of owning smartphones, having instant access to information and being connected to an almost unconscious drip-feed of easily digestible news, memes, single-word messaging, 140-character statements and Buzzfeed-style lists.

As of 2013, the average American now has an attention span of about eight seconds – that’s four seconds shorter than it was in 2000 – and less than the average goldfish, which can pay attention for nine seconds.

A Canadian newspaper recently reported that a Calgary radio station was docking the length of the songs it played, in accordance with observations about ‘people with their iPods, playing their favourite songs and skipping them before the end because they get bored.’

Main image via Pedro Ribeiro Simões at Flickrcc.

Sadie Hale

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