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Reading print books vs. e-books

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Reading is considered one of the activities which may possibly reduce the risk of developing dementia. But not all forms of reading prove equally beneficial for human cognitive development.

A 2013 study found that readers of a short text on a digital reader remembered the order of events worse than those who read the same story in paperback. According to the authors, texts printed on paper supports provide ‘… fixed spatial cues for text memory and recall,’ which is not the case with screens. The brain ‘reads’ by building a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page. Before the internet age, the brain ‘read’ in a linear fashion, using sensory details in layout to remember where key information was in a book.

As readers increasingly use screens, their reading habits have adapted to skimming text rather than absorbing the meaning. Research shows that people reading on screens follow an F-pattern, reading the entire top line and then just scanning the text down the left-hand side. This sort of non-linear reading tends to reduce comprehension and make in-depth processing of information more difficult.

Chinese researchers have demonstrated that the brain and hand work together when learning how to read and write. They have found that the brain automates movement sequences when writing by hand and links them to specific letters. This, in turn, has led them to argue that new digital learning methods hinder learning, as writing by hand leads to better reading and comprehension skills.

More worryingly, data shows that one in five 15-year olds and many adults in Europe cannot read properly. European Union (EU) Education Ministers have set a target to reduce the share of poor readers from 20% to less than 15% by 2020. So far, only five Member States – Belgium (Flemish Community), Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Poland – have achieved this target.

Source: E-Books: Evolving markets and new challenges, © European Union, 2016.

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