Study found that paperback readers recall book plot better than e-readers

A new study, which was presented at a conference in Italy last July, has found significant difference between paperback readers and Kindle readers. In this study, 50 readers were given a 28-page story by Elizabeth George to read. Half of the participants read the short story on a Kindle, while the other half were given paperback copies. The study’s participants were then asked on various aspects of the story such as objects, characters and settings.

A significant finding was noted in a plot recalling task, in which participants were instructed to correctly arrange 14 events found in the story. Results indicated that Kindle readers performed significantly worse than paperback readers. Kindle readers were most likely to forget the exact sequence of the story.

This is probably because of the difference in readings process and experience between a digital text and a print text.

“The reading process and experience of a digital text are greatly affected by the fact that we click and scroll, in contrast to tactilely richer experience when flipping through the pages of a print book. When reading digital texts, our haptic interaction with the text is experienced as taking place at an indeterminate distance from the actual text, whereas when reading print text we are physically and phenomenologically (and literally) in touch with the material substrate of the text itself.”

There is a drawback to this study: only two participants in the digital text group were experienced Kindle users.

Despite the limitation, the researchers aim to improve scientific understanding of the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

“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 Anne Mangen, the lead researcher. “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.”

‘Paperback Book vs. Amazon Kindle’ by Megan Trace/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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