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Are e-readers hurting our reading comprehension?

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Brian Snyder/Reuters

(Read caption) Researchers have been studying reading comprehension on screens as opposed to paper since at least the 1980s.

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Do e-readers hamper reading comprehension?

As e-readers and tablets become increasingly popular, that question is the crux of a new article by Scientific American that examines the brain’s response to reading on paper versus reading electronically. When we move from one medium to another, for example, do we retain the same level of information? Do we absorb the message as completely? Do we enjoy the same quality of concentration in reading?

Though research – and indeed, our own adaptation to electronic reading – is ongoing and changing, the SA article suggests reading on electronic devices can inhibit reading comprehension by hindering readers’ ability to fully absorb and process content. But that may be changing.

“[E]vidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way,” writes Ferris Jabr for the Scientific American. “In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension.”

One reason for this is that screens are visually taxing to look at, causing eye fatigue, especially after reading for long periods of time.


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