E-readers may be all the rage right now, but various scientific studies have offered evidence that reading in print is actually significantly better for cognitive development and mental health. Not only do humans process information at a higher level – they also feel an increased sense of intimacy when holding a physical piece of paper, magazine or book. There is an established connection that digital alternatives cannot match, simply because of a lack of tangibility.
E-readers inhibit comprehension abilities
A 2014 study by Stavanger University in Norway found that people who had read an e-book were less likely to accurately remember the order of the plot when compared to people who had read the same story in print, Mic reported. The source noted that while human brains are not naturally predisposed to reading, they are able to construct a mental representation of words, based on chronological ordering, that helps process the sequence of events. With printed books, this is easy – you can flip back and forth and create a timeline in your head. However, when reading digitally, it becomes much harder to understand the structure. Only one page can be shown at a time, and it's difficult for most readers to wrap their heads around the landscape of the content.
Scientific American chimed in on the matter, adding that turning the pages of a book is akin to leaving a trail of footprints behind you as you walk. However, electronic reading interferes with the intuitive textual navigation process. You can't feel digital "pages" as you scroll down, or hit the "turn page" button on your e-reader. There is no way to get into a rhythm when reading on a screen, whereas print books encourage it with their flowing format and physical boundaries.
In 2003, Leicester University in the U.K. conducted a study in which 50 students were given print and digital materials to study, according to Scientific American. When quizzed about 20 minutes later, those who had used the text electronically fared just as well as those who were paper-based, but researchers noticed that the online group seemed to only remember specific facts, while the print group, as a whole, had a better comprehension of the overarching subject. The source said that there is a fundamental difference between simply remembering something and regurgitating it, and having a complete knowledge of a topic, and being able to comment on it through expertise.
Mic cited a 2006 study that found an interesting pattern regarding the average electronic reader that could help explain this discrepancy. When reading from a screen, people tend to read in an "F" shape; fully processing the first line of each paragraph, but then gravitating toward the left-hand side of the page going forward.
Reading in print has various neurological benefits
Mic recognized that reading text from a screen is unavoidable, but stated that 30-45 minutes of focused, distraction-free daily reading can improve your linear reading abilities. In fact, the source said, there are numerous benefits to regularly picking up a paper book. Statistically speaking, elderly people who use the traditional format are two and a half times less likely to get Alzheimer's, while the very act of reading in general can reduce stress 68 percent after just six minutes.
Mic also noted that print readers showed higher levels of empathy when shown an upsetting short story than those who read it digitally did, and also became more immersed in it. When done as a habit, it can improve quality of sleep and concentration abilities.
It's not just a personal preference anymore – though, avid readers have widely agreed that paper is a superior format in which to read. Science is also on print's side in this fight, and science almost always wins.