Brain Activates Differently to Reading Paper or Digital

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by Jason von Stietz - October 6, 2014

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Does the brain process information differently when we read a paper book versus when we read a digital copy? Recent research shows that it does. When reading a paper copy the brain engages in “deep” linear reading. When reading a digital copy we tend to skim and the brain engages in non-linear reading. This phenomenon was discussed in a recent article in The Takeaway:


Manoush Zomorodi, managing editor and host of WNYC's New Tech City, recalls a conversation with the Washington Post's Mike Rosenwald, who's researched the effects of reading on a screen. “He found, like I did, that when he sat down to read a book his brain was jumping around on the page. He was skimming and he couldn’t just settle down. He was treating a book like he was treating his Twitter feed," she says.


Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards "non-linear" reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page. 


“They call it a ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Zoromodi says. “The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.”


So what's deep reading? It's the concentrated kind we do when we want to "immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,” Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don't typically do on a computer. “Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.”


Linear reading and digital distractions have caught the attention of academics like Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.


“I don’t worry that we’ll become dumb because of the Internet,” Wolf says, "but I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep reading processes because we’re just given too much stimulation. That’s, I think, the nub of the problem.”


To keep the deep reading part of the brain alive and kicking, Zomorodi says that researchers like Wolf recommend setting aside some time each day to deep read on paper.


And now that children are seemingly growing up with a digital screen in each hand, Wolf says it’s also important that teachers and parents make sure kids are taking some time away from scattered reading. Adults need to ensure that children also practice the deeper, slow reading that we associate with books on paper.


“I think the evidence someday will be able to show us that what we’re after is a discerning ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Wolf says. “That’s going to take some wisdom on our part.”


Read the original article Here



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