Finally, Evidence That Reading on E-Books Is Not The Same As Printed Books

A new study reveals differences between reading from paper and from a screen

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Ever since the arrival of the first e-book readers circa 2004, there has been a well-aired suspicion from book lovers that something was different about the experience.

Of course the experience had to be different. Simply removing the tactile enjoyment of turning pages had to do something. But what? Surely the sheer convenience of the small, light Kindle (or equivalent) that can hold hundreds of books, made up for the loss. At least Kindle’s use of E Ink and electronic paper reassured us that the company did not want us to go blind, or at the very least, squinty.

But surely it wouldn't make a difference whether we read Tolstoy off a Kindle or off the page? Yet, the question of whether our abilty to process stories is altered by the use of a tablet device has urged a number of research teams to conduct studies about this very thing. A forthcoming study may prove that in fact, we do process things differently, and the classic paperback might just win out.


A Norwegian-French team of researchers from the University of Stavanger and Aix-Marseille Université have carried out an experiment that may have tapped into potential differences in the way we process information from a screen and from paper.  some cognitive drawbacks to reading even short works of literature on a screen.

The experiment, led by Anne Mangen, divided 50 students with all had similar reading habits and experience with e-book readers, into two groups. Both groups were then given the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. One group read the story in regular paperback form, while the other group read off an Amazon Kindle DX. During the reading experience, the students’ “emotional response” was evaluated using a standard psychology scale. Once they were finished reading, the experimenters tested the students on various elements of the story.

“It’s a confirmation that these ergonomic dimensions, the tactile feedback of holding paper, might actually matter.”

Interestingly both groups scored about the same when it came to setting, character and plot. People’s emotional responses were in sync. So far so good. However scores begin to diverge between the two groups when it came to questions about when events in the story actually happened. Kindle readers scored significantly lower here, and and were only half as good at arranging 14 plot points in the correct order.  

This indicates that what we read from actually matters, and affects our cognitive processing - the extent to which still remains unclear. However it still gives credence to the argument that there are draw-backs to reading literature from a screen instead of from the time-honoured printed page. 

“It’s all one complex web that we need to start’s a confirmation that these ergonomic dimensions, the tactile feedback of holding paper, might actually matter,” Mangen said at a recent conference in Turin, as reported in The New York Times. 

Via The New York Times