18 March, 2019 / Paper

Reading comprehension is better on paper

A study by the Interdisciplinary Reading Unit (ERI Reading) at the University of Valencia, in Spain, has concluded that comprehension is greater when people read on paper than in digital formats, such as on tablets or computers.

Based on the analysis of more than 1,840 scientific articles, the authors selected and assessed in detail 54 studies that met the criteria for inclusion in their statistical meta-analysis: comparison of reading comprehension between paper and digital, comparable reading materials (text size and structure), normalised population (principal focus on non-disabled students) and publication date (after 2000). The sample included more than 170 000 participants in 19 countries over all five continents. The study concluded that paper presents clear advantages over digital in reading comprehension, even more when there are time restrictions and/or the texts are informational. In addition, the level of preference for digital media has actually declined over time, indicating that younger generations are actually far from happy to let digital take over.


The study was led by Pablo Delgado, Cristina Vargas and Ladislao Salmerón, of the Faculty of Psychology, in collaboration with Rakefet Ackerman, of the Israeli Institute of Technology, and was co-funded by the European COST E-READ project and the Spanish Ministry for the Economy and Competitiveness. A scientific article entitled “Do not throw away your printed books: A meta-analysis on the effects of reading media on reading comprehension” was published in September last year in the Journal of Educational Research Review.

In relation to reader profiles, Ladislao Salmerón points out that the superiority of paper increases in people aged under twenty: “The generation aged 16 today shows a more expressive paper superiority effect than that felt by previous generations. To be clear, younger generations have even better understanding on paper than on digital devices, in comparison with previous generations.”

The study shows that the beneficial effect of reading on paper, as compared to digital, is 21% of the standard deviation from the mean, an effect equivalent to an annual average increase of 2/3 in reading comprehension during basic education. We should note that, in basic education, the proportion of reading comprehension is very high, due to existence of school textbooks. The authors have therefore reinforced the view that digital environments are not always the most appropriate for in-depth comprehension and learning.

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