Better than his reputation: At least tablets have earned their place alongside printed books. Image: Thinkstock
Reading aloud In Germany, the book is a high cultural asset. And it is still the most popular medium for reading: although in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, more electronic books are already being sold than printed versions, readers in Germany hardly ever choose e-books. Their main argument for this or better against it: on e-books reading is much more exhausting. Whether this is true, researchers from Mainz, Munich and Marburg have now tested - with a quite surprising result. The ebook has a hard time in the land of poets and thinkers. Although sales doubled between 2010 and 2011, electronic books account for only about one percent of total book sales, according to Franziska Kretzschmar of the University of Mainz and her colleagues. If one asks the reluctant buyers why they decide against the e-books, one usually hears the following: The e-books are indeed practical and also readily available, which is an advantage - but reading it is much harder and less pleasant than in the classic paper book.

More brainwash for tablet and co?

Now it is conceivable that the slightly different representation of the letters on the e-book readers and tablet computers actually demands more from the brain than the printed letters. However, it could also be that subjective feeling does not reflect the real states. Something like that happens, the team emphasizes. So should there be such a discrepancy between personal inclination and de facto resource requirements even in the case of the abusive e-books?

To answer this question, the scientists recruited a total of 56 subjects. Thirty-five of them belonged to the age group between 21 and 34 years, the remainder were significantly older at 60 to 77 years. Everybody got nine short texts to read - three of them were scholarly papers, three were textbooks and three were fictitious stories. All were about the same length, were shown on three pages and were written in the same font size of the same font. They were presented to the volunteers in three rounds, with one text per round being recorded for each variety. display

Everyone comes once

The only difference between the presentations was the medium: each turn, participants read a text on paper, one on a tablet and one on an e-book reader. Her eye movements were followed and her brain activity was recorded by means of an electroencephalograph. Then they should indicate which presentation they liked best and on which medium the text was easiest to read.

Unsurprisingly, the printed word was by far the most popular medium in both groups. The younger ones then put the e-reader - far behind - to the second place, the older ones thought the tablet was a little more pleasant. In terms of readability, the paper was also the winner by far, followed by the tablet and the e-reader. In the elderly tablet and book, however, were almost equal, with a wafer-thin lead for the tablet PC.

However, when the researchers then evaluated the eye movements and the brain waves, they were confirmed in their suspicions: the objective measurements did not fit the personal preferences of the subjects at all. Surprisingly, it did not make any difference to the young test participants which medium they were given - in all three, both reading speed and brain activity were practically the same. The older ones, on the other hand, confirmed what had already hinted at the question of legibility: they obviously got along much better with the tablet than with a book page or e-reader. Their reading speed, measured by the time it took their eyes to fix the words, was significantly higher on the tablet than on the other media. At the same time, her brain apparently had to work harder - his activity remained clearly below that of Buch and Reader.

Culture against cognition

From this, several conclusions could be drawn, say the researchers. Number one: The skepticism about digital media seems to be a purely cultural phenomenon and not a cognitive one. The subjectively greater effort in reading must therefore be a symptom of this cultural aversion - you need more brain lard for reading on e-reader and tablet at least not. Conclusion two: Older and younger people react apparently completely different to the different media. While it does not seem to matter to the younger which book variant is used, the elders benefit from being able to read digitally, especially on tablet PCs.

The superior resolution of the monitor in the tablet compared to the e-reader, the scientists, however, not responsible. On the contrary, you suspect that the effect is due to the backlight on the tablet. Because these increase the contrast between letter and "paper". Earlier it had been shown that in old age, the ability to reduce lower contrasts, which again at the expense of the reading speed goes.

Of course, it remains to be verified whether this is really the explanation for the effect and whether the results can be reproduced in further, larger studies. It also remains unclear at first whether the tablet is so effective even with longer texts or longer reading times. If that is the case, one might have to consider persistent skepticism as a transient phenomenon that simply belongs to a period of change as it is currently used in media usage, res The researchers write.

Franziska Kretzschmar (Johannes-Gutenberg-University, Mainz) et al .: PLoS One, doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0056178 Ilka Lehnen-Beyel

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