e vs p?

via The Passive Voice I was led to a recent Time.com article that claims “studies show” print is better than electronic for reading and studying and learning.


The article references two sources. One is Mark Changizi’s article in Psychology today, which is full of affirmative claims but no sources.

Had Maia Szalavitz stopped with just that source there’d have been no problem. Her article builds on what Sr. Changizi has written, essentially saying “Yes, and here’s a personal anecdote showing what he claims.” Unfortunately the other reference to Dr. Kate Garland, Lecturer at the University of Leicester.

See, if you go looking for Dr. Garland’s publications you’ll find she’s written more than a bit on cognitive studies between computer and paper. The most recent on the subject, however, doesn’t say what is in the article. Actually it does to some extent. There are studies that show it’s harder to learn and understand what’s on the computer when compared to print. HOWEVER (should be shouted), there are also studies that say it isn’t harder for computer than paper.

That last paper was a survey of studies on the subject conducted since (ahem) 1981. No, not a typo.

As you might expect, the older studies are more likely to say paper is better. However, date isn’t the only predictor (though it is the best such) as to whether it’ll find paper better or not. It’s just, well, as you can expect there is some correlation between date of the study and result of the comparison.

Another point made in at least one of the studies is size of display. Larger displays get better results, which tends to support Dr. Garland’s hypothesis that quality of the display (CRT in a couple of studies) matters. Which in turn makes me suspect we need to see actual studies from dedicated and optimal readers before accepting these studies; devices such as Kindles and Nooks and Ipads, at least.

In other words, Changizi’s report (he doesn’t give example, but that’s not surprising in that sort of blog/article) is in accordance with some studies but contrary to others. But Ms. Szalavitz only references the part in agreement and makes no mention of the fact there are contradictory reports.

In essence, “this supports my opinion so I shall mention it, and this does not so I shall ignore it.”

In the end, then, I’m disappointed with the article, and won’t be saving it for any future reference.


2 thoughts on “e vs p?

  1. Did you happen to bump into any research that shows if e-reading has an impact on vision? I know I use UV protected reading glasses behind my PC (I am also near sighted) and reading books feels more comfortable to me when doing extended reading. Just curious. Also curious if there might be any long term effects on the generation of children growing up behind electronic screens, if there is any short-term or long-term effects on vision.

    • No, I didn’t. I might have to go looking.

      If/when I do, I also want to see if “eye-friendly” screens were studied. One of the Big Deals of e-Ink (and a couple of recent competitors) is that they’re using a different display technique that nominally reduces if not eliminates eye strain. I’ve tried them and they do seem to feel better after long use, but that’s subjective as all get out.

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