When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in our minds, much as we do when we look at terrain and create a mental map in our heads. But experts warn that we read text on screens differently, preferring to skim, scan and click hyperlinks, rather than ‘deep reading’ in the old-fashioned sense.
Norwegian experts tested the theory by dividing students of comparable reading skills into a paper group and LCD monitor group. In a follow-up reading comprehension test, the group who’d read texts on computers performed a little worse than the traditional readers. And a Swedish study in which volunteers completed a reading test reported similar findings: those who took the test on a computer scored lower, and reported higher stress levels, than those who took the same test on paper.
Prof Ziming Liu, of the School of Information at San José State University in California, believes digital screen readers engage in greater use of shortcuts such as browsing for keywords. His research also reveals that screen users are more likely to read a document only once and expand less time on in-depth reading.