What if digital books are dumber books?

from Tom Campbell, owner of the Regulator Bookshop, Durham, N.C.:

A few years back one of my wife's graduate students did her doctoral dissertation comparing a state-of-the-art interactive website to a printed pamphlet as a means of getting health information to teenage girls. (My wife teaches health education at the UNC School of Public Health). To the student's surprise, the group of girls who got the printed pamphlet had superior results in every parameter measured. They had better recall, spent more time thinking about the information, were more likely to discuss the material with friends and changed their behavior because of what they had read more often than members of the other group.

Another peer-reviewed study from educational psychologist Karen Murphy in 2001 determined that college students reading from a screen found their reading less interesting, took new ideas less seriously and found new ideas less persuasive than students reading the same material on paper.

And in 2004, Andrew Dillon, a researcher in human-computer interaction at the University of Texas, said that "by far the most common experimental finding over the past 20 years is that silent reading from screen is significantly slower than reading from paper . . . the weight of the evidence suggests a performance deficit of between 20% and 30%."

Maybe we need to get some more peer-reviewed, in-depth research into digital readers before we risk dumbing down our children? It is possible that the better screens on devices like the Kindle might lead to better reading comprehension, but it's equally possible that better screens won't make much difference at all. Digital books just might be inherently inferior. Which would indeed represent a tipping point--but quite a different tipping point from the one the digerati are expecting.


Scott said…
That's crazy. But - come to think of it - my retention is better with print. I always attributed it to my age and figured that the generation(s) that followed-on would pick up that slack...
Anonymous said…
Fear not (too much) folks -- screen reading still is generally slower but there is little evidence that comprehension scores are negatively affected -- BUT you often have to spend more time on digital docs to get the equivalent level. I agree, the shift to digital needs to be studied carefully - paper has many qualities beyond tactile pleasure that we have shaped and been shaped by over the last few centuries.


Andrew Dillon
Kathryn said…
That's interesting. I would've assumed that something interactive would be more likely to educate people, particularly young people used to learning from online formats. Hm. Maybe we give more weight to the printed word and therefore pay more attention to it?
johnmichael said…
That is interesting...it says a lot about advancement.