Reading on a Screen Instead of Paper Might Influence Your Comprehension


Your reading comprehension might be directly influenced by your preference for paper or pixels, new research revealed.

According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, how you perceive, comprehend and interpret reading material is influenced by whether you consume it on a digital or a non-digital platform.

In one of the randomized experiments, participants read a short story by David Sedaris, EurekAlert reported, some on a physical printout and some on a PDF on a laptop. They were then given a pop quiz to test their reading comprehension. The findings suggest that reading from a piece of old-fashioned paper yields better abstractness perception — these participants scored around 66% correct on abstract questions compared to 48% correct for those who read using the digital platform. However, pixels trumped paper when it came to the concrete questions — 73% correct for the laptop readers compared to 58% correct for the paper readers. 

This experiment shows how differently we perceive the same content based on what platforms we turn to. Perhaps those Luddite bookworms adding to their bookshelves instead of buying an e-reader are better at comprehending a story's abstract themes. On the other hand, if you're trying to get to the facts of the matter, you're better off gazing into the digital abyss. 

This isn't the first study to pit paper against digital. A study from 2014 found that paperback readers were better at recalling the plot of a mystery story than e-reader users. Other reports have suggested that general reading comprehension is more inhibited with e-readers than with paper. And based on the most recent study mentioned above, abstract thought may also be inhibited when reading via a screen.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads." And also whether or not he read it on his e-reader.