Many older adults say that they prefer to read actual books rather than electronic books (e-books). However, German researchers have found that reading text on e-books requires less effort than reading on paper for these individuals.
“This suggests that the overwhelming public opinion that digital reading media, though convenient, reduces the pleasure of reading is a cultural rather than a cognitive phenomenon,” write the researchers in the journal PLOS ONE.
Led by Franziska Kretzschmar, from Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz, the investigators used combined electroencephalography (EEG) and eyetracking measures to test whether reading from digital media requires higher cognitive effort than reading conventional books.
Young (21-34 years) and elderly (60-77 years) adults were asked to read short texts on three different reading devices: a paper page, and e-reader and a tablet computer. They were asked to answer comprehension questions about them while their eye movements and EEG were recorded. They were also asked to answer a debriefing questionnaire.
Both groups of adults indicated they preferred reading from a paper page rather than the electronic devices on the questionnaire.
However, the researchers found that older adults spent less time fixating on the text and showed lower brain activity when using a tablet computer in comparison to the other two devices. By contrast, younger adults showed comparable results for all three devices.
“We argue that these results can be explained in terms of the better text discriminability (higher contrast) produced by the backlit display of the tablet computer. Contrast sensitivity decreases with age and degraded contrast conditions lead to longer reading times, thus supporting the conclusion that older readers may benefit particularly from the enhanced contrast of the tablet,” writes the team.