Sorry, Web Scholars: Reading Print Is Better for Comprehension

Screen reading isn't as beneficial as an old-fashioned book.
Old school book learning.
Old school book learning. / d3sign/Moment via Getty Images

Virtually all of humanity’s knowledge is available in one form or another on the internet, from Wikipedia pages on presidents to hot takes on anime. But if you want to maximize your understanding and retention of what you’re reading, you’re still better off with the printed page.

A new study out of the University of Vienna and published in Review of Education Research examined 25 existing studies from 2000 to 2022 on reading habits and comprehension. The meta-analysis suggests a six to eight-fold reduction in benefits when using digital text.

“The main conclusion is that leisure reading habits on screen are minimally related to reading comprehension, which contrasts with the solid positive relationship between reading habits on paper and comprehension,” researcher Lidia Altamura said in a University of Vienna press release.

Text on web pages read on screens or phones may be too easily consumed, according to the paper, with people scrolling quickly and opting more for a glance rather than giving the copy their full concentration. Content found on social media might also be casually phrased, which further diverts attention. Add to that emojis and other screen distractions and reading becomes an activity with no there there.

The study also found a correlation between reading comprehension and younger students. Generally, grade schoolers took away less information than college-level students, likely because it’s easier for kids to become distracted.

There’s long been evidence that print is generally better for information retention and even for budding readers: One 2019 study found that parents reading from physical books saw kids more engaged than when they read from e-books.

[h/t The Guardian]