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Paper vs. Screen Reading

Now that the Holidays are over, and the gifts have been adopted in, parents should be aware that reading on electronic screens may not help their child in school. In a recent article published by Scientific American, research found that all aged readers have better comprehension from reading paper information. Many experiments lead to the conclusion that the computer and iPad screen drains our mental resources, therefore: inhibiting comprehension.
Various studies examined the effects on reading comprehension after reading paper information or stories or electronic screens. Among 3-6 year olds, in one study, the children remembered more details from the paper story than the story produced on the computer with colored pictures and sounds. In another study, 3-5 year olds and their parents were reading stories or facts on electronic screens or paper books. The parents reported that the screen readers were redirected to the reading and corrected to stop fiddling with the computer buttons, volume, etc. . . . The families reading from paper had 100% comprehension, even the 3 year olds (p.53). Another study done with students (age undisclosed) supported the previous conclusions as well. Students read information on screen or paper, and took a comprehension test on either paper or screen. The paper tests had 100% better results.
In yet another test, college students were given text to read either on screen or on paper. They were immediately tested for comprehension. This time the result was equal. In this case, researchers were able to identify that the learning was different between the screen and the paper: the screen readers “recalled” information and the paper readers “knew “the information. “To know information is a stronger form of memory defined as certainty that something is true”(p.53).
To begin with, we are not born with brain circuits dedicated to reading. The brain forms them along with neural tissue for speech, motor coordination and vision (p.52) from birth to 6 years. Scientists believe in a term called “Metacognitive learning regulations”. This simply means the brain sets up goals, reads specific sections, and checks how much one has understood (p.52). Reading paper supports the Metacognitive Learning regulations as paper gives us a kinesthetic experience. We see where we are geographically in the course of the read information, the reader can go back, and the reader can form a mental coherent map (p.50).
The cons of reading on screen decreases comprehension. It drains our mental resources, and uses up our memory sooner. For many, the buttons, lights, and sounds are too distracting. The non-kinesthetic experience leads to recalling and speculation instead of certainty.
There are pros of screen reading. iPads are being tested in remote parts of Africa. The villagers helped build a solar station to power the Pads. Children without any interaction from the outside learned the English alphabet and many words and learned to read minimally in less than 17 months (p.26). It is a powerful tool. As the study continues, it will be interesting. For now, the human interaction is priceless. Children are social and watch our mouths, and expressions to get full use of language.
Clearly, paper reading is with us for a while. It is the method that students use to “understand with clarity” (p.53). Take a minute to review the YouTube video “A Magazine is an iPod That Does Not Work.” One may predict that humans are going in two extreme directions-screen reading for constantly changing information or reading to be grounded in the beauty and humanity before us and after us.
Reading paper vs. screen is just one more paradox in human evolution. Without judging, humans are mostly on the paper side. It would not be surprising if this switched in the next two generations. My 72-year-old Mother has just begun texting this month. When I got a text from her number, I was certain someone had stolen her phone. She finally got it… the pressure of social inclusiveness.

A is for App. Wolf, Maryanne. Scientific American, Volume 309 , #5. p. 26.
Why the Brain Prefers Paper. Jabr, Ferris. Scientific American, Volume 309, # 5. p. 49–53.