What do you like best – reading something on-screen, or having a piece of paper in your hands and reading from that? Consistently, people claim that the subjective experience of reading from print is better than screen reading. Although we have to read millions of words from our screens each year, we all seem to prefer having a book in our hands, or getting our fingers grubby with newsprint. How wrong we can be.
A new study shows that we actually read better from screens than we do from print. It confirms my personal finding that when I read from my Amazon Kindle I appear to be able to read much faster – something other Kindle users have told me they also experience. The researchers in Germany used brain wave studies and eye-tracking analysis to compare how we read from print, from an e-book reader and from a tablet screen. The worst performer was print. It seems that even though we claim that reading from print is better, our brains are actually telling a different story. We read better from screens – even if it appears we read more slowly according to some previous studies.
There are some possible explanations for the new findings. Our reading ability is dependent upon the contrast between the words we are looking at and the page they are one. With print, the contrast can be relatively low, for low quality paper for instance, making it more difficult for us to read. However, if the paper is bright, the contrast can be too high – disturbing our reading again. Indeed, one of the ways in which people with dyslexia can be helped to read is to reduce the contrast of the paper, such as printing on blue or yellow sheets. This makes it easier for people with dyslexia to read because one of the issues they have is a difficulty in interpreting text when the contrast is too high. Reducing the contrast helps.
On screen, the contrast is different – your eyes are receiving transmitted light, not reflected light. And it seems that transmitted light is easier for us to read from, than the scattering of light due to reflections. Some anecdotal evidence also suggests that people with reading difficulties and learning difficulties find it easier to read from screens than from print.
In other words, there is growing evidence that screen reading is easier for our brains to cope with, than reading from print. Our brains process it faster. It also appears that screen reading leads to deeper information processing, suggesting it may well be easier to remember things we read on screen, compared with print.
And what does this mean for your online business? It means you should stop worrying about giving people loads to read on your website. The fact that people will find it easier to read your online content and that they process it more deeply as a result can only be good for your business – assuming you provide loads to read via a screen (and that also means having your content available on the Kindle).
- Reading a book versus a screen: Different reading devices, different modes of reading? (sciencedaily.com)
- Ebooks or Printed Books: Which Are Better for You? (mashable.com)
- eBooks or Real Books? (searching4meaning.com)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+