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The downside of progress: our brain can't get used to electronic text, scientists say

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Apr20,2024

The flipside of progress: our brains can't get used to electronic text, — scientists

Although reading is not an inherited skill, the digital age is even stronger began to load our brains. Scientists told how to adapt it to new realities.

A recent comprehensive study conducted by researchers at Macquarie University in early 2024 found a significant difference between reading from a screen and on paper, particularly in how well readers understand and remember information. During the conducted research, a regularity was revealed: reading from digital devices, as a rule, led to a deterioration in understanding and memorization of information compared to traditional paper forms. This was called the “screen inferiority effect”, writes ZME Science.

Professor Eric Reichl of Macquarie's School of Psychological Sciences explained this phenomenon by pointing to the recent evolutionary development of reading as a skill. Unlike speech, which is an innate human ability, reading requires complex and rapid interactions between the cognitive and visual systems. These systems were not originally designed for reading, making it an acquired skill that requires long practice to master. The advent of digital screens adds another layer of complexity that often leads to superficial reading and poor memorization, especially when time is short or when working with dense, information-rich texts.

Devices such as e-readers, which use electronic ink to mimic paper, may offer a solution to the problem, scientists believe. These gadgets reflect rather than emit light, providing a more book-like experience that can smooth out some of the shortcomings seen in other digital devices. Dr Lily Yu, a psychologist at Macquarie University, noted that while immersion in reading a narrative on screen may be minimal, comprehension problems become more apparent when reading complex texts such as academic or technical materials, particularly for less experienced readers .

The study also examined the broader cognitive consequences of screen reading. Factors such as screen brightness, eye strain, and multimedia distractions can reduce a reader's ability to concentrate. What's more, the habitual use of devices for recreation and multitasking can reduce the level of mental activity necessary for deep reading, the authors said.

However, digital readers should not lose hope. The same studies show that with focused practice, readers can develop strategies that allow them to overcome some of these barriers. Professor Reichl called for continued efforts to retrain our brains to adapt to digital formats, stressing that while regaining deep focus may not be easy, it is achievable and worth it.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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