Digital and print media both have advantages, but new research shows that paper trumps screens when it comes to understanding and remembering what we’ve actually read.
People who read on paper score better on comprehension tests than those who read on computer screens, according to a 2013 study led by Anne Mangen, PhD, an associate professor at the National Centre for Reading Education and Research at Norway’s University of Stavanger.
There are a few possible reasons why: Screens encourage people to skip around, rather than digest the text from beginning to end. Scrolling through digital screens consumes more mental resources than turning a page. The eyestrain caused by screens can be distracting to the brain. And a growing body of research shows that we simply pay more attention to words and images on paper.
“Texts on paper have a physicality and spatial extension that is easily accessible,” says Mangen, who, together with her colleagues, published the findings in the International Journal of Educational Research. When you read a printed book, you can see how long it is and even visualize where certain passages fall. It’s like having a map with landmarks to track the narrative.
Still, Mangen says you don’t have to toss out your favorite e-reader. Perhaps consider choosing a screen for that lighter fare and a book when studying for the bar exam.