Readers Remember Less on Kindles than on Paper

In News by Dennis Abrams

Can’t remember the plot of that mystery you just read? A new study determines: maybe it’s your Kindle’s fault.

By Dennis Abrams

The anti-memory device?

The e-reader: an anti-memory device?

The Guardian reports that a new study has found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than readers of paperbacks in remembering a timeline of events in a mystery story – part of a “major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitization on the reading experience.”

Presented in Italy at a conference last month, the study gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read: half read the 28 page story on a Kindle, the other half in a paperback. Readers were then tested on various aspects of the story, including objects, characters, and settings.

According to The Guardian, Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, one of the study’s lead researchers, thought that academics might “find differences in the immersion facilitated by the device, in emotional responses” to the story, based on an earlier study that compared reading an upsetting short story on paper and on an iPad. “In this study, we found that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers,” Mangen said.

However, the new study showed that while performance results were similar, except when it came to the timing of the story’s events. “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, i.e., when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.”

The study seems to suggest that “the haptic and textile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket books does.”

“When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right,” Mangen said. “You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual… [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. 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.”

Mangen also chairs a new European research network doing “empirical research on the effects of digitization on text reading.” Allison Flood writes in The Guardian that the network says that “research shows that the amount of time spent reading long-form texts is in decline, and due to digitization, reading is becoming more intermittent and fragmented,” with “empirical evidence indicat[ing] that affordances of screen devices might negatively impact cognitive and emotional aspects of reading.”

“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,” Mangen told The Guardian. “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.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.