Kindle e-readers make it 'significantly harder' to absorb the plot of a book, scientists claim

Participants in the a study were asked to recall the plot of a mystery story

Kashmira Gander
Wednesday 20 August 2014 10:09 BST
Scientists have claimed Kindle e-readers make it harder for readers to recall the plot of a story
Scientists have claimed Kindle e-readers make it harder for readers to recall the plot of a story (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Bookworms who believe nothing can compare to getting stuck into a paperback novel now have evidence to back their hunch, as researchers have claimed that Kindle devices make it “significantly harder” for a reader to absorb plotlines.

A Europe-wide study, assessing how the move from paper books to digital technology impacts a reader’s experience, has suggested that the difference may be down to the weight and feel of a Kindle when in comparison to a paperback.

Researchers made their findings by giving 50 readers the same 28-page short story by American mystery writer Elizabeth George. Half were given a Kindle to read from, and the rest a paperback book.

The participants were then asked to recall aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings, the Guardian reported. Only two participants were experienced Kindle users.

The study found that while factors including empathy with the characters, immersion into the story, and a reader’s understanding of the narrative were relatively similar, Kindle readers performed “significantly worse” when asked to relay the story’s events in the correct order.

“When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right,” Anne Mangen of Norway's Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study, told the newspaper.

She believes “sensory offload” of turning pages may be linked in the reader’s mind to the progress of the text, and in turn the story itself.

In the study presented at conference in Italy, Mangen also cited a paper published last year which showed Norwegian teenagers had a better comprehension of a text read off paper rather than on a digital device.

She added she now hopes to replicate the Elizabeth George study using regular Kindle readers, but said she was sceptical that the "digital natives" of today would perform better.

“I don't think we should assume it is all to do with habits, and base decisions to replace print textbooks with iPads, for instance, on such assumptions. Studies with students, for instance, have shown that they often prefer to read on paper,” she said.

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