📖 Print vs Digital 🖥

More and more people are digesting content digitally. Here's what the science says.

How do our brains respond differently to words on a screen rather than to words on paper? 

In a distracted digital age, children's first experiences with written language are often digital texts. 

According to a recent U.S. study from Common Sense Media, children ages eight and younger spend an average of just under two and a half hours a day with screen media, 35 percent of it on mobile screens. 

They spend more time with mobile screens than with print books.

This shift has raised concerns about the potential for children's ability to read deeply and with focus. 

In recent years, researchers are putting more emphasis on understanding the impact of the digital text on children's reading development. 

📗📘 Print 📕📓

Proponents of print books claim that print books engage a more complex sensory system than e-books. The feel of a book, it's smell, appearance, and the satisfaction felt when one finishes reading the book are all elements that distinguish reading a paper book from reading a digital book.

Any book lover can attest that great novels are an immersive experience that brings the mind to life with images and emotions and even engages one's senses.

To remember what you read, a book gives you the tactile experience of pages turning under your fingertips which feeds your brain with information, leading to a deeper understanding and grasp of the topic you are reading. 

What do the studies say?

Study 1 ⌄

More screen than reading time is associated with decreased brain connectivity between regions controlling word recognition and both language and cognitive control related to reading comprehension.

Structurally, increased screen time relates to decreased integrity of white-matter pathways necessary for reading and language

Study 2 ⌄

Increased screen time (and less reading time) is associated with poorer language development and executive functioning.

Study 3 ⌄

Time spent reading is positively correlated with higher functional connectivity in left-sided language, visual and cognitive control regions of the brain.

In contrast, screen time correlates with lower connectivity in regions related to language and cognitive control.

Study 4 ⌄

Students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally.

🏁 Conclusion 🏁

More print. Less digital.

Seems likes a good thing.

References

Bavishi, A., Slade, M., & Levy, B. . (2017). The Survival Advantage of Reading Books. Innovation in Aging, 1(Suppl 1), 477. .
Berns, G. S., Blaine, K., Prietula, M. J., & Pye, B. E. . (2013). Short and long-term effects of a novel on connectivity in the brain. Brain connectivity, 3(6), 590–600..
Dodell-Feder, D. & Tamir, D.. (2016). Fiction Reading Has a Small Positive Impact on Social Cognition: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Duff, D., Tomblin, J. B., & Catts, H. . (2015). The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect. Journal of speech, language, and hearing research : JSLHR, 58(3), 853–864. .
Keller, T. A., & Just, M. A. . (2009). Altering cortical connectivity: remediation-induced changes in the white matter of poor readers. Neuron, 64(5), 624–631. .
Lewis, D. . (2009). Galaxy Stress Research. Mindlab International, Sussex University, UK.
Mangen A., Bente R., Brønnick K.. (2013). Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research Volume 58, 2013, Pages 61-68.
Small, G. W., Lee, J., Kaufman, A., Jalil, J., Siddarth, P., Gaddipati, H., Moody, T. D., & Bookheimer, S. Y. . (2020). Brain health consequences of digital technology use
. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 22(2), 179–187. .
Tamir, D. I., Bricker, A. B., Dodell-Feder, D., & Mitchell, J. P. . (2016). Reading fiction and reading minds: the role of simulation in the default network. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(2), 215–224. .

Oh yes, as someone who used to be an avid reader, consuming 2-3 books a week as a teenager, to morphing into a screen-addicted adult who is now constantly distracted when I try to read an actual book, I can attest first-hand to the damage screen time does to reading ability. In addition to the findings in this article, screen culture has created a population of people with limited attention spans. We are now conditioned to want instant gratification, and books, comparatively, are a slow burn. I miss the days of hiding my Sweet Valley High books inside my history textbook and reading during class because I couldn't wait to find out what happens next! There is very little I have found that compares to the gratification and enjoyment of immersing myself in a really good book.

I knew there was a reason why I prefer physical books over reading on a screen! The part of this article that mentions how the experience of actually turning the pages of a book engages more of our senses is so spot on to how I feel when I read an actual book.

Also a highly valuable article to (begin to) explain why reading is so important for children.

Thanks for this.

I remember when Amazon Kindle entered the market over a decade ago, along with the Barnes and Noble Nook.  It was a big debate if physical books would be instinct, and goodbye to physical books. I wondered this too, and I saw a lot of indie book shops go out of business. 

I loved the new technology, but at the same time, I knew physical books were needed as mentioned.  It’s holding the book in your hands, turning the pages, the new book smell.  All of that stimulates your senses. I do love the option of digital, but it can be bothersome on the eyes, distracting - especially if internet is on the device, and it definitely doesn’t stimulate the senses like a physical book. Even the beautiful artwork for the cover feels better to explore in your hands.  The touch of the pages and act of turning pages, and loss of smell is gone on a device. 

But as we see, physical books are still here!  I read a study that said physical books WAY outsell digital, with physical taking 85.7% of the market, and digital 14.3%.😃

For children, I wouldn’t introduce a digital device for reading until school age.  I believe children need to explore physical books, and studies have shown that the less screen time, the better for a developing mind.

I usually try to read for 30 minutes before bed each night. So cool to read how that may be rewiring my brain and retraining my cognitive functions. I try to stick with print books to avoid excessive screentime too, which hurts my eyes. That seems to be the way to do it.

Very interesting! I love reading books digitally. I wonder how important it is to train myself back to printed material!?

Yikes, while reading this article I realized 2 things. 1st my son was playing on the iPad for the last half hour and 2nd I haven’t read a book for over a month. So I made him get off the iPad and then made a mental note to start my new book later this week. I personally like having books around and encourage reading in our house. I tried a kindle before and it was too distracting. I love the feeling of a real book and having them strewn all through the house. They are part of my decorating actually!