Readers Grasp E-Books Just As Well As Print

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Contrary to popular belief, reading text on digital devices like tablet computers requires less effort from older adults than reading paper.
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When Dr. Matthias Schlesewsky and colleagues sent preliminary results of their new study to one of Germany’s biggest newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- commonly known as the FAZ -- they quickly found themselves being dragged through mud.

“We were immediately attacked in the newspaper on the feuilleton,” said Schlesewsky, a professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. The feuilleton is the arts and culture section of the paper, similarly compared to the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.”

Their study sought to address a common stigma in Germany -- and perhaps across the world -- regarding one's reading experience when it comes to traditional media printed on paper versus digital media, specifically e-readers and tablets.

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“There’s a ubiquitous statement you hear throughout German media or if you talk to people,” said lead author, Dr. Franziska Kretzschmar, also a professor in the Department of English and Linguistics at Johannes Gutenberg University. “It’s that if you read on digital media, your reading is worse, you comprehend less, it’s more difficult and it takes more effort to memorize information. It’s something like a prejudice that people hold against digital media in Germany.”

Schlesewsky, who oversaw the study, said his intentions and results were clear.

“The aim of this study,” he said, “was to show if this” stigma “was either right, or as we found, wrong.”

Conducted in collaboration by researchers from Georg August University Göttingen and the University of Marburg, full findings of the study, published today in PLOS ONE, are sure to spark more controversy, which Schlesewsky says he fully anticipates.

“For all people in the intellectual domain,” the feuilleton “is the first thing they read in the newspaper. And we were attacked on the first page,” he said. “They said we were a slave of the e-book media, that we were paid to run a favorable study and that the study can’t be true.”

To prove their results were no fabrication, researchers brought more scientific gravity to the debate simply by removing subjective emotions from the equation.

“From the area of psycho-neurolinguistics, you can actually see that, sometimes, what people perceive and how they interpret their own behavior, is not what you can measure online while people are performing a linguistic test,” Kretzschmar said. “Even if you claim that you have more trouble reading on one medium versus the other, that might not actually be the objective reality in terms of what’s going on in your brain.”