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Time to go back to paperback? Readers 'absorb less' on Kindles, study finds

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Luddites may be vindicated by a new study that claims Kindle users don't absorb as much information as readers who stick to paperback books.

Europe-wide research into the impact of digitalisation on reading found that people who took in a short story on a Kindle had "significantly worse" recall of the plot than the ones who read it in paperback form, The Guardian reported.

"The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order," explained lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway's Stavanger University.

The researchers suggest that the progress through pages of a paperback book provides a "sensory offload" that supports the reading process.

"Haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does," Mangen said.

"When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right ... Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader's sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story," said Mangen.

Despite this, factors including empathy with characters, immersion in the story, and understanding of the narrative were relatively similar across e-readers and paperback readers.

The study also included only two experienced e-reader users, but Mangen - who wants to recreate the research using a greater proportion of Kindle converts - warned against assuming that the "digital natives" of today would perform better.

A paper last year found that Norwegian students who were given texts to read in print scored "significantly better" on a reading comprehension test than students who read same text in PDF form on a computer screen.

Mangen chairs a European research network into the wide-ranging implications of digitisation. The network says that "screen devices might negatively impact cognitive and emotional aspects of reading".

"It might make a difference if a novel is a page-turner or light read, when you don't necessarily have to pay attention to every word, compared to a 500-page, more complex literary novel, something like Ulysses, which is challenging reading that really requires sustained focus," Mangen said.

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