A new European study has found that Kindle owners have a harder time recalling key plot points than paperback readers.
The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half in a paperback, with readers then tested on aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings.
Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study said “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure.” The readers struggled to make sense of the key 14 plot aspects. The researchers suggest that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does”.
“When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right,” said Mangen. “You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual … [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.”
“We need to provide research and evidence-based knowledge to publishers on what kind of devices (iPad, Kindle, print) should be used for what kind of content; what kinds of texts are likely to be less hampered by being read digitally, and which might require the support of paper,” said Mangen. “I’m thinking it might make a difference if a novel is a page-turner or light read, when you don’t necessarily have to pay attention to every word, compared to a 500-page, more complex literary novel, something like Ulysses, which is challenging reading that really requires sustained focus. That will be very interesting to explore.”
This report makes a lot of sense when it comes to the mental processing of reading digitally vs reading the print edition. You get a sense of accomplishment when you are making significant headway in the paperback, you can see the tangible progress.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.