There are researches that underline obvious facts and others that reach targets not even hypothesized at first, researches that change our perspective confirming and overcoming some of our prejudices.
No, we are not about to unfold for the umpteenth time the discovery of the penicillin by Alexander Fleming, the reference framework is definitely less remarkable, but the research results are, with the due proportions, equally surprising and fascinating.
The research to which we are referring has been done by the University of Mainz and published in 2013 on PlosOne (Full article).
The study analyses the perceptive ability and the cognitive workload while reading a text on paper and on electronic devices.
More exactly this study uses EEG measures combine with eye tracking in order to check if the reading on digital device requires more cognitive workload than is necessary during the reading of traditional books.
The key issue stays in the application of a reliable methodology and then drawing a comparison between the results obtained and the subjective evaluation given by the readers involved in this experiment.
The research has been carried out by analysing the “EEG frequency activity and fixation” during the action of reading on three different devices: tablet, e-reader and paper book through a combination of the numerical data with a questionnaire filled personally by each participant.
This duality, on the sample of the readers divided in two age brackets, young and elderly, as well as on the use of automatic techniques coupled with the collection of personal opinions, has brought to divergent conclusions, some of them quite surprising.
No surprises regarding the digital natives, or rather the young adults, the action of reading on book page appears to be easier, the measures of the eye movement reveal longer periods, and therefore a greater visual effort during the action of reading through electronic devices. The questionnaires confirm such trend, what was perceived by the reader corresponds and confirms what was collect through tracing techniques of the eye movement.
For the young adults, age bracket 21-34, reading on paper turns out easier.
The blue column on the graph below points out that during the experimentation the easiest medium to read for the “Young adults” was clearly the paper format (Book page).
We would like to remind you that we have already covered this aspect in a previous article by highlighting how, till now, for the young ones the sequential reading on paper format is less demanding, able to provide more information memorized for a longer period.
Let us also remember that today’s generation of “young adults” is not fully digital, it concerns individuals who have undertook a learning pathway in primary and secondary school based on writing and reading on paper. We believe that the generation who will use only electronic textbooks, (a pretty puzzling event for many of us to which we have dedicated another interesting article), will have a different and perhaps a better digital sensitivity.
But let us get to the point.
The “older adults” readers read faster and with less cognitive workload on tablet, this is the first stunning conclusion to which the research comes. This is motivated by minor eye sensitivity due to age and claims that the most elderly readers benefit from the contrast provided by the tablet. The electronic device highlights better the text “backlit” (first column on the graph below “Medium with the best readability”, “Tablet” device for category “Older adults”, age bracket 60-77).
The second stunning conclusion is that many “older” readers don’t acknowledge such benefit and, on the filled questionnaire, they indicate by far the page book as the best device, easier and faster to read.
The conclusion to which the research comes is that the subjective evaluation concerning the medium operated, must be dissociated from the cognitive and neural workload employed in the management of the information during the reading.
In short, this research underlines three different, concomitant and contradictory, situations:
- A reduced receptive ability by the youngest readers in the face of a digital text,
- The prejudice of the older ones in using a digital medium for reading,
- The fact that in certain circumstances is easier to read on tablets, devices for general use, than on e-readers, devices targeted only for reading.
There is a cultural and cognitive gap to fill in the new generations as well as a digital prejudice to fill in the long-lived generations and there are technical aspects to improve in the electronic media already on the market.
The paradox lies in the fact that the youngest often choose to use digital media, the “over” the printed books, and that to both of them an expert would recommend the purchase of an e-reader; all sub-optimal situations according to the already mentioned research.
These paradoxes are typical of the “transitional” epochs, when the innovative element which leads to a great change is not yet completely successful, when the alternatives of use are not perceived as opportunities but as antagonistic options, representing different generations and different lifestyles.
We have to say, in partial support of the tool e-reader, that the research has been carried out more than two years ago, during this time the devices have been subject to further important developments.
The e-book and the printed one are not antagonistic tools; the knowledge has and will always have the same, authentic and immense value whichever medium promotes it.
It is important for each of us to choose, without prejudice, the most suitable readout mode.
The trend of e-books purchasing is constantly growing in Italy, the Italian publishing Report of Aie-The Italian Editors Association marks in 2014 a slight decrease of the printed format against a 26,7% increase of books available in digital format and more than EUR 40 million of turnover.
In thanking “PlosOne” for the research subject of this article, available on line, we remind you that WorldTwoDotZero is only a game, a web walk to take together; it doesn’t have any commercial purpose.