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Reading on Paper May Boost Your Understanding and Productivity

Reading a book on paper? Information not found on a phone or a tablet or a computer?

It may seem like a quaint notion to some, considering the use of e-books and other digital materials in colleges is growing in popularity. A 2014 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual almanac reported that 63% of colleges reported using e-textbooks, according to Educause Review, while another 27% of schools plan to use them down the road.

But research has shown that our brains may prefer to absorb information the old-fashioned way. Whether it’s taking notes longhand or writing down appointments on paper planners, an area of the brain is stimulated that tends to bring clarity to what we’re focusing on.

Several studies back this up, according to an article in Fast Company. One by a professor at the University of Stavanger in Norway had subjects read a short mystery; half read using an Amazon Kindle, while the other half read a printed copy. Afterward, those who read the mystery on paper gave more accurate responses to questions about the plot, as well as sort events described in order.

The “whys” are still being studied, but it’s thought to involve “metacomprehension,” or how in touch we are with our own understanding.

There’s a tactile experience associated with reading on paper that encourages a learning focus, as an article in Scientific American points out. The topography is more obvious, with left and right pages as defined domains with a tangible thickness.

Digital books, on the other hand, don’t offer such landmarks for readers, as the material is presented as a stream of words. Even with page numbers, headers and illustrations, only a single virtual page is displayed.

Research at Sweden’s Karlstad University uncovered some drawbacks to digital reading. One study found people who took a standardized reading comprehension exam on a computer scoring lower and reporting greater stress and tiredness than taking a paper version of the same exam, according to the Scientific American article. The belief is that screen-based reading may be physically and mentally taxing. Digital devices reflect light directly on our faces, which tires our eyes. Other factors like the model of the device, glare and pixilation can have an effect as well, even though new technology tries to replicate the experience of reading on paper.

Interestingly, a study of college students in the U.S., Slovakia, Japan and Germany found that 92% of students prefer reading pages over pixels, according to a Los Angeles Times article. From the perspective of better learning, retention and productivity, reading preferences may be worth monitoring.

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