Paper vs Computer Screens: Why Your Brain Prefers The Printed Word

In these modern times, many people do the majority of their reading via computer screens. Whether perched over a desktop monitor or peering at a tablet or smartphone, it’s become the norm to consume the written word electronically.

But the Scientific American reports that when it comes to reading and taking in the message of text passages, paper may have the upper hand.

Comparative studies over the past 30+ years have concluded that even with e-ink devices such as Amazon’s Kindle arriving on the market, computer devices are still a long way from emulating the satisfaction of paper.

Why Do We Prefer the Printed Word?

The research conducted in the UK, US, France, Sweden, Norway, Taiwan and Japan has shown that people around the world find the experience of reading text on paper more comfortable and memorable than reading on screens and monitors. There are a number of proposed reasons for this:

  • It’s believed that the corners of pages in a book/magazine help to cement the memory of reading a passage, so it’s easier to recall later by picturing the text in the mind.
  • Flipping through pages to skip ahead or compare provides a more tactile experience than, for example, clicking between two browser tabs.
  • The weight of the regions of read and unread pages in a publication (particularly a book, which is typically read from start to end, rather than dipped into like a magazine) creates a physical reference to the reader’s progress. This helps the reader to build up a clearer memory of the text and the sequence of points-events within. A webpage, on the other hand, may use complicated page indexing structures
  • Experiments have shown that staring at a computer screen is much more taxing on the reader’s eyes, with prolonged reading often causing headaches and eye strain. This is because computer screens emit light, whereas paper reflects the ambient light in the room.

It’s ironic that while the internet has opened up a huge wealth of knowledge and reading material for the everyman, the best way to actually absorb the information is via the humble printed word!

Which do you prefer; reading from paper or from a computer screen? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: Two Sides ‘Scientific American: Why The Brain Loves Paper