The Daily Telegraph ran an interesting story yesterday about an e-book related scientific study undertaken in 2011 by the Media Convergence Research Unit at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. The study received a fair amount of media attention when it was first reported, and if you’ve been following the digital publishing industry for awhile, it might sound familiar.
The study’s purpose was to provide “a scientific basis for dispelling the widespread misconception that reading from a screen has negative effects,” as Dr. Stephan Füssel, chair of the Gutenberg-Institute of Book Studies, explained it at the time. (TeleRead covered the study in October 2011.)
So, why is the study back in the news some 18 months later? I’d guess it has something to do with the fact that the resulting peer-reviewed research article was published yesterday; you can read it in its entirety on PLOS ONE, an international open-access journal that reports on primary research from various scientific disciplines.
At any rate, an enterprising reporter—perhaps it was science correspondent Nick Collins, the author of the Daily Telegraph article—seems to have extrapolated from the study a curious bit of data about how senior citizens’ brains process reading materials:
“The results suggest that elderly people found reading easier when using backlit electronic devices, which provide increased contrast between the text and background, researchers said. Previous studies have shown that older people’s eyes are less sensitive to contrast, and worse contrast between text and background causes people’s reading speed to decrease.”
The Daily Mail wrote about the study today, and mentioned another curious finding, presumably from a different study:
“German researchers also from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz discovered that older people read even faster using the the iPad as it made reading easier than both the Kindle and traditional book.”
Unfortunately, this is one tale that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending for the digital reading prosthelytizers among us: According to the Telegraph, “The [study’s] results suggest that despite digital book sales overtaking print in the UK and the US, readers are still more attached to the culture associated with books than the convenience of electronic devices.” Also: “When asked which device they preferred reading on, traditional books were twice as popular as electronic devices among older readers.”
Click here to read and/or download the paper, “Subjective Impressions Do Not Mirror Online Reading Effort: Concurrent EEG-Eyetracking Evidence from the Reading of Books and Digital Media.” (The screenshots below are also from the study.)