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The Science Behind Print Books vs. eBooks

Posted by Joe Clarkin on Dec 17, 2015 4:00:00 AM
Topics: digital content, Higher Ed, K-12

Technology has caused a bit of a divide between readers. With the availability of tablets and eReaders, some people have gotten accustomed to eBooks to the point where they prefer it over printed copies. However, there are still many who say that nothing beats being able to hold a printed book in your hands. So what's the science behind those preferences, and can it tell us anything in regards to one way of reading having an advantage over the other? This article from CBS News dives into that exact topic.

The Science Behind Print Books vs. eBooks

Young, reluctant readers prefer e-readers

A 2014 study published in the journal Library & Information Science Research found that out of 143 10th grade students, most preferred e-readers. Boys and those who did not care much for reading also shared a strong preference for e-readers.

"An e-reader has more in common with the electronic devices that young people use all the time, like smartphones or iPads, than a paper book, when it comes to turning of pages, the possibilities of adjusting font size, etc.," lead author of the study, Åse Kristine Tveit, told CBS News in an email.

Reading on paper may boost retention

Several small studies suggest that reading on paper instead of an electronic screen is better for memory retention and focus. The Guardian reported on an experiment from Norway where people were given a short story to read either on a Kindle or in a paperback book; when they were quizzed later, those who read the paperback were more likely to remember plot points in the right order.

"When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right," the lead researcher, Anne Mangen, of Norway's Stavanger University, told the Guardian. "You have the tactile sense of progress ... Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader's sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story."

Paper suits readers with sleep problems and eye strain

High levels of screen luminance from an electronic device can contribute to visual fatigue, a condition marked by tired, itching, burning eyes.

There are also potential considerations for those reading e-books on light-emitting e-readers at night (although a number of e-readers do not use light-emitting screens), Dr. Margaret K. Merga, a reading and education specialist in Australia, told CBS News in an email. "Artificial light exposure from light-emitting e-readers may interfere with users' ability to sleep, ultimately leading to adverse impacts on health."

A 2014 study published in the journal PNAS found that reading an e-book before bedtime decreased the production of melatonin, a hormone that preps the body for sleep. E-books also impaired alertness the following day.

About Joe Clarkin

Joe Clarkin is a former copywriter at MBS. When he’s not working or studying, you’re most likely to find him reading a book or watching a game.

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