The current age of digital media has increased the popularity of ebooks and audiobooks alongside traditional print books. In particular, the global audiobook is worth over $5.3 billion and is expected to reach $30 billion by 2030. Hardcore book lovers have always emphasized reading physical books over other formats.
There have been intense debates over books and audiobooks being intellectually stimulating in recent years. While there are many research studies supporting the benefits of reading, recent studies have shown that there are not many differences in grasping material either through reading or listening. Here’s a quick overview of comparing books with audiobooks.
A report titled ‘Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview’ published in 2006, discussed how reading helped build vocabulary. Readers would come across new words while reading a book and be able to understand their meaning due to the context of the sentences. Subsequently, it helped contribute to the development of problem-solving skills in real-life situations.
However, a recent study titled ‘The Representation of Semantic Information Across Human Cerebral Cortex During Listening Versus Reading Is Invariant to Stimulus Modality’ published in 2019 stated that the same held true for listening. They did data analysis and brain scans to find out that the same regions were activated with the same intensity regardless of reading or listening. It also showed similar results with the cognitive and emotional areas in the brain.
Many readers have claimed that reading a book is a personal experience. It is because your mind is in control of assigning different voices and personalities to the character. Hence, it helps to form an emotional connection with the book and its content.
On the other hand, listening to audiobooks could be described as a social experience. It is an intimate experience as well since the narrator is narrating the story to you alone. However, the experience is similar to watching a movie adapted from a book. Therefore, it may provide a different experience than how your mind would visualize the characters. Although, it can be debated in the following point.
Not all audiobooks provide a straightforward narration of what’s written in the source material. Sometimes, they add special sound effects and background music for a more immersive experience. ‘The Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior’ stated that our brains are more likely to create meaningful imagery when listening to stories. It allowed the brain more space for visual processing.
Moreover, audiobooks have been preferred by most readers if done for the right genre. For example, thriller and suspense genres often have fast pacing, which can be better entertained in audiobooks. Their value also increases if they’re narrated by celebrities, as done for ‘Dune’ by the movie’s cast members.
Comprehending material either by reading or listening boils down to personal preference. The most cited study published by the Journal of Educational Psychology has stated that there is no difference in comprehension despite the differences in medium.
Moreover, audiobooks have an added advantage for those learning a new language, as they can grasp the words with current pronunciation. As a result, it is widely used at lower school levels to help children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
A recent study titled ‘Audiobooks and Literacy’ has also supported the above claims that audiobooks increase a child’s interest in the material discussed in class.
As stated earlier, audiobooks have increased in popularity in recent years. The sales of audiobooks increased by over 50% in the US over the last five years. They are readily available for most book titles and can be listened to while multitasking. Hence, you can listen to them whether driving, cleaning, or doing any other activity.
The study titled ‘Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain’ has proven that reading is a great way to build a stronger memory and lower the chances of memory loss and other cognitive disorders. Similarly, audiobooks are not different as it does not matter whether you listen for entertainment or learning. They were able to activate the same regions in the brain as they did for reading.
To summarize, reading books does help in building vocabulary, comprehension, and memory. However, various studies have shown that the same occurs for audiobooks as well. Therefore, the mode of absorbing knowledge and learning is similar in both mediums. Ultimately, it depends on your preference and how your brain is wired to grasp the material.