Reading on digital platforms is changing the way our brains work

In this digital era, classrooms are increasingly being done on computers as opposed to the traditional attending of physical classes and reading on notebooks. People also, increasingly prefer to read digital content as opposed to printed materials. A recently carried study has shown that this type of reading has made our brains to retreat into focusing on small details as opposed to the meaning of what we are reading. Multimedia devices have changed how the human brain works making it harder for us to comprehend fully what we are reading.The study from Dartmouth College showed that digital reading has shortened attention span and left little time for contemplative thought.

In the study, more than 300 participants were required to do four tests.The research established that those who read short stories, filled forms or studied using computer screens tended to understand the basic facts of what they were reading but failed to process the ‘high-level’ ideas behind the material.

The study also established that those carrying out tasks with papers were overwhelmingly more capable of understanding the meaning of the content while those on the computers only managed to retain certain particular details. An example is when participants were to choose between two ways to describe ‘making a list’. Those answering on paper choose ‘getting organized’ while those on the computer selected ‘writing things down.’

During a comprehension test on a short story, those who read the digital content retained more information about minor details while those who read it in print, fared better in questions about the story’s border narrative and inference.

When evaluating the specifications of four fictional cars, 66% of those who read the comparison on paper could correctly say the best model, while only 43% who had read the comparison on a computer noted the best model.

On detailed questions, participant reading digital content scored 73% correct while those on printout only managed 58%.

The author of the study suggested that the possibility of distractions offered by computers and smartphones has caused people to opt for the less mental-challenging activity of grasping concrete details when reading even during test condition when these distractions are not available. They wrote that the ever-increasing demand for multitasking divides attention causing us to retreat to the less cognitively demanding lower end of the concrete-abstract continuum.

Psychology has already shown construal levels can vastly influence outcomes such as goal pursuit and self-esteem. This new study has just demonstrated how digital reading affects our cognition.

Before presentation of these research findings at the ACM conference, it was noted that the results are not meant to be an indictment of the digital technology and its impact on the brain…….though it is important to understand the trend.

featured image credit:mirror



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