Reading Off Paper Has A Useful Cognitive Benefit Over Tablets Or Laptops

Laptops and tablets are changing the way we think about information — maybe for the worse.

Laptops and tablets are changing the way we think about information — maybe for the worse.

If you want to make more intellectual leaps, it may be better to print out information than read it on a laptop or tablet.

Using tablets and laptops reduces the ability to think in abstract ways, a new study finds.

Instead, people using these digital devices tend to concentrate more on the concrete details of their work.

For the research people read a series of texts either on paper or on a laptop/tablet.

They were then asked questions about them afterwards.

Some of these tested their abstract understanding and others tested their concrete understanding.

When reading off paper, people performed roughly 30% better on questions that required a leap of understanding.

However, the results were reversed when the questions simply required concrete answers.

Dr Geoff Kaufman, one of the study’s authors said:

“There has been a great deal of research on how digital platforms might be affecting attention, distractibility and mindfulness, and these studies build on this work, by focusing on a relatively understudied construct.

Given that psychologists have shown that construal levels can vastly impact outcomes such as self-esteem and goal pursuit, it’s crucial to recognize the role that digitization of information might be having on this important aspect of cognition.”

The conclusions come from four studies with over 300 people.

Professor Mary Flanagan, a study co-author, said:

“Compared to the widespread acceptance of digital devices, as evidenced by millions of apps, ubiquitous smartphones, and the distribution of iPads in schools, surprisingly few studies exist about how digital tools affect our understanding — our cognition.

Knowing the affordances of digital technologies can help us design better software.

Sometimes, it is beneficial to foster abstract thinking, and as we know more, we can design to overcome the tendencies — or deficits — inherent in digital devices,”

The study was presented at ACM CHI ’16, the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems on May 10, 2016.

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

Get free email updates

Join the free PsyBlog mailing list. No spam, ever.