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Science Says You Should Still Keep Reading Print Books Over e-Books

If you’re teaching a kid to read, you’ll definitely want to avoid e-books.

E-book devices like the Kindle and Nook have already changed the industry of publishing in their relatively short lives. Much as the iPod did with music, now authors can self-publish right from their laptops and readers can carry with them every book they own in something about the size and weight of a paperback.

But while the e-book readers might seem good, uh, on paper, you might consider continuing to read print books for the foreseeable future. Science has given us several reasons why the health and wellness benefits of reading printed material outweigh the convenience and affordability of their digital brethren.

Print Books Help You Sleep

Daily Mail

By now, we’ve come across all sorts of articles and nosy interlopers reminding us that staring at the screens of our tablets and phones is hurting our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Well, if you’re using a multipurpose device (like an iPad) as opposed to a purpose-specific e-reader like a Kindle with e-ink, it doesn’t matter if you’re reading US Weekly’s home page or War and Peace – you’re exposing yourself to the same blue light that’s messing with melatonin, circadian cycles, and the like, which all lead to you feeling tired when you wake up.

That said, the act of reading still serves as a great remedy for occasional insomnia or restlessness. Just make sure it’s a print book you’re diving into, otherwise you could be making matters worse.

They’re More Powerful Tools For Developing Children and Teaching Them to Read

Learning and the Brain

Anything that gets a kid reading is a step forward, but this article from The New York Times asserts that step will be a lot bigger if you use a paper book rather than an e-book. A 2013 study found that kids age 3-5 had a lower comprehension when they were read to from an e-reader than a physical book. There could be a few reasons for the discrepancy, but the prevailing notion was that both the child and the adult reading focused more attention on the device and its settings than they did on the story and explaining it.

One of the peripheral benefits of reading to children is what’s called “dialogic reading,” in which the parent and child discuss what’s going on. It can serve as an important influence on a child’s worldview and approach to learning. E-books seem to, either through novelty or complexity, hinder such interaction.

Further, the more “interactive” elements of e-books can do more harm than good on that front. Says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, an author of the 2013 study:

“What we’re really after in reading to our children is behavior that sparks a conversation. But if that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it’s not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book.”

We Just Don’t Read As Well When We’re Looking at Screens

Medical America

A report in Scientific American included a 2005 San Jose University that found people reading books and articles on screens are far more likely to take shortcuts or cheat their way through the piece. In absolute terms, this is natural and understandable – you’re just not as focused when reading Twitter and blog posts as you are when you’ve plopped down with a book.

So while we’re conditioned to read a little more haphazardly while reading on a phone or tablet, we aren’t able to flip a switch to put us in “serious reading” mode when we’re taking on denser or longer fare. Another study found that even news stories consumed via e-reader weren’t recalled as well as those that were read via print. In the study, 50 subjects were given a short story to read. Half read it on a device and half read a printed version. Says the author of the study, Anne Mangen, “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.”

She went on to explain her theory on the discrepancy, stating, “When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual–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.”

These arguments against e-readers aren’t absolute. In many instances, the convenience outweighs the benefit of lugging around heavy, bulky books. But if you’re thinking about a wholesale migration over to e-books, evidence supports the claim that adults and children just don’t benefit as much from them as they do their low-tech siblings.

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