That's the intriguing conclusion suggested by new findings out of Dartmouth's Tiltfactor lab. For the series of studies, the research team asked more than 300 participants to read a variety of materials, including short stories and technical specifications in either an electronic format or on paper. Study subjects were then given a quiz that tested both their recall for concrete details from the material and asked more abstract questions, such as inferring information about the characters or deciding which model described in the specifications was superior.
You might think that getting the information via paper versus pixel would make no difference to how the study subjects processed and recalled what they read, but you'd be wrong. It turns out those who read from paper did significantly better on the abstract thinking questions, while those who read a PDF or tablet did better on the concrete ones.
The bottom line: "Using digital platforms such as tablets and laptops for reading may make you more inclined to focus on concrete details rather than interpreting information more abstractly," according to the study release.
How you read matters
If you're just scanning for concrete details, that tablet is fine then. But this conclusion suggests that those who hope their reading might spark new ideas or creative leaps would probably be better off sitting down with the material in paper form. The findings also might provide insights that could lead to better electronic reading devices going forward.
"Compared to the widespread acceptance of digital devices, as evidenced by millions of apps, ubiquitous smartphones, and the distribution of iPads in schools, surprisingly few studies exist about how digital tools affect our understanding -- our cognition," commented study co-author Mary Flanagan. "Sometimes, it is beneficial to foster abstract thinking, and as we know more, we can design to overcome the tendencies -- or deficits -- inherent in digital devices," she added.
But while computer scientists and designers may use these results to come up with better digital reading devices in the future, in the meantime you might just want to print out that article or order the actual book if your aim is to spur creativity.