Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Science, and Surveys on Benefits of Reading (Ebooks and Hard Copy Books)

Most of us already know the importance of reading for our kids, and that reading is the best indicator of success in school. But here are some more studies supporting why reading is so important for everyone whether they're in or out of school.

Reading reduces stress

A 2009 study (University of Sussex, published in The Telegraph, March 2009) found that reading (for pleasure - not work) for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by 68%.

[Note that listening to music reduced the levels by 61%, a cup of tea or coffee lowered them by 54%, taking a walk lowered stress levels by 42% and playing video games reduced stress levels by 21%.] 

According to the article, psychologists believe reading helps reduce stress because while reading, we concentrate on the reading and this distraction eases the tensions in the muscles and heart. Dr. Lewis, Cognitive Neuropsychologist further notes that,
"...It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”

Reading helps maintain the brain's grey matter

In another study which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was reported by ABCNews, elderly people who regularly read are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who don't. According to the study's main author, Dr. Robert Freidland, people who don't exercise their brains lose brain power.

 The Wall Street Journal notes another study of 300 elderly people (published by the journal Neurology) which showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading slowed memory loss in its participants' later years. The article, "Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress" by Jeanne Whalen (updated 9/16/2014) also notes a study published in Science where reading literary fiction was shown to help people understand others' mental states and beliefs.


Reading print books may help comprehension better than reading ebooks

A 2014 study led by Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger in Norway, and Jean-Luc Velay at Aix-Marseille University in France found that 25 subjects who read a short mystery story in print, retained and comprehended more than another 25 who read the story on a Kindle. While there was no significant difference between the groups along emotional measures or to questions about the the plot or setting, Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

Source: Reading Center, University of Stavanger; CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université (via The New York Times)
Source: Reading Center, University of Stavanger; CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université (via The New York Times)

Analyzing their data, they believe that the brain finds it easier to make a mental map of text when it is presented via physical, tactile interaction with the book. They note that,
"Previous research has demonstrated that a mental map is particularly important if the text is long. Lengthy texts call for quicker navigation. You need to be able to leaf back and forth through different parts of the text to see, review, and comprehend relationships and contexts."
Mangen further notes that,
"... laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicate that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done...."
According to an article in The Guardian, Mangen also published a study in 2013, in which she gave 72 Norwegian 10th-graders texts to read in print or in PDF on a computer screen. Comprehension tests following the reading found that, "students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally."

 In "The reading Brain in the Digital Age" posted on April 11 2013, Scientific American, Ferris Jabr reports on various studies of digital versus printed text reading. Jabr, for example notes that Before 1992, most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. More recent studies, however "have produced more inconsistent results."

Surveys about the use of e-readers suggest that our inability to flip pates affects our sense of control and limit our sensory experience, thus reducing long term memory of the text. Studies also find that reading long sentences without links is a skill we all need, but can lose if we don't practice.

As noted in "Science has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books" Rachel Grate notes that,
"Before the Internet, the brain read in a linear fashion, taking advantage of sensory details to remember where key information was in the book by layout.
As we increasingly read on screens,  our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning."
Grate further notes that Tufts University neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf worries that, "the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing." Wolf and others advocate a "slow reading" movement, as a way to counteract their difficulty many face making it through a book.

Slow Reading

Slow reading advocates recommend 30-45 minutes of daily reading away from the computer, ebooks, smart phones and other distractions of modern technology. These advocates site many of of the studies above noting the benefits of 'slow' low-tech reading such as stress reduction, empathy, and the ability to concentrate.

What do you think?
As always, thank you for your visit.
Please leave your reactions and insights in the comments below

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  1. EVERYTHING I've read indicates that reading e-books is not as good as reading print books. I TOTALLY believe it.

  2. Thanks for the research. I've wondered if kids would miss out on the tactile experience of paper books.

  3. From another book-lover, a most enjoyable post.

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