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Digital vs. Paper: Does the Way You Read Content Affect Comprehension?

  • Category: Mental Health
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Digital vs. Paper: Does the Way You Read Content Affect Comprehension?

How do you get your news? Is your favorite novel in paperback or on a Kindle? Is the textbook you’re studying from an eBook? The way you’re reading could affect how much you understand what you’re reading. Electronic devices have become a vital part of our daily lives, but aside from causing headaches and tired eyes, research suggests that using these devices leads to poorer reading comprehension.

Maybe you’ve noticed it in yourself or in someone else, but some people tend to sigh or take an occasional deep breath while reading. This helps regulate your breathing while you process what you read. Whether you sigh a lot or not much at all, scientists have found that it tends to happen more when a person is reading from a paper source.

Research has shown there is a relationship between our breathing and cognitive function. When our brain faces a demanding task that increases cognitive load, we sigh more often. Sighing, or taking a deep breath, is our body’s way of resetting, bringing relief and reducing physiological tension to benefit cognitive performance.

A recent study measured the brain activity and breathing of a group of students to see if text read from a paper source was understood better than text read from a cellphone. The study found that when tested on what they read, the students exhibited a higher comprehension of the text they read from a paper source than what they read from a cellphone because they sighed more often while reading from paper. Although reading from both sources increased brain activity, researchers determined that reading on cellphones caused a more intense cognitive load and that that heavier load prevented the students from sighing, which led to an overactive brain and lower comprehension.

Next time you find yourself struggling to get through an online news article, or if the blog you’re reading on your cellphone isn’t making sense, try taking a few deep breaths to give your brain a much-needed boost of oxygen. (Or you can always print it out!)