Going all digital might be good for trees, but it's bad for memory, suggests new research, which found that Kindle readers are significantly worse at rehashing what they've read compared to hard copy readers.  

A forthcoming study from Anne Mangen, a researcher from Norway's Stavanger University, recently tested 50 readers on their ability to recall important aspects from a 28-page short story. Half of the participants read the story on a Kindle and half read a paperback version. 

When asked to remember details about the characters and setting, the two groups performed mostly the same, The Guardian reported. However, when the participants were asked to reconstruct the plot, Kindle readers were notably worse at placing the main 14 story events in the right order.  

When Mangen presented her research at a conference in Italy last month, she made a guess as to why this was the case. 

"This very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you're reading," she said. "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."

A few other recent studies have explored the effect that digitization has on memory. Mangen published a paper last year that tested digital versus paper reading comprehension. She and her colleagues asked 72 Norwegian 10th-graders to read text either from a print-out or from a PDF on a computer screen. In the end, those who read the hard copy version performed better on a reading comprehension test. 

Additionally, research from Princeton University earlier this year found that those who took longhand notes were better at remembering that information in the long-term compared to those who took notes on a keyboard.

Mangen said that she and fellow European researchers plan to continue to study the effects that digitization has on cognition in order understand how to best adapt to its impact on learning.

Until then, you might want to keep the important staff memos out of your employees' inboxes and put them directly into their hands instead. 

Published on: Aug 26, 2014