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Research Suggests E-Readers Are "Too Easy" To Read 185

New research suggests that the clear screens and easily read fonts of e-readers makes your brain "lazy." According to Neuroscience blogger Jonah Lehrer, using electronic books like the Kindle and Sony Reader makes you less likely to remember what you have read because the devices are so easy on the eyes. From the article: "Rather than making things clearer, e-readers and computers prevent us from absorbing information because their crisp screens and fonts tell our subconscious that the words they convey are not important, it is claimed. In contrast, handwriting and fonts that are more challenging to read signal to the brain that the content of the message is important and worth remembering, experts say."
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Research Suggests E-Readers Are "Too Easy" To Read

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  • This is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:14PM (#34879730)

    This is quite possibly one of the stupidest things I have ever read. I'm regretting not reading it on my Kindle, so I could forget it quicker.

    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:29PM (#34879968)

      I just use my scratched pair of glasses when I read it. problem solved.

    • by blai ( 1380673 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:31PM (#34879986)
      ... and +5 replies are now in Comic Sans.
    • by Ambiguous Coward ( 205751 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:49PM (#34880274) Homepage

      My high-resolution display and crisp, anti-aliased fonts tell me your opinion is irrelevant.

    • by Tharsman ( 1364603 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:54PM (#34880346)
      I would agree, but the crispy font in my higher than HDTV resolution monitor, made the article so easy to read that I dismissed it as unimportant and no longer recall why I started typing this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It's simply based on a level of processing cognitive psychology theory. Things that you have to struggle with a little bit to read or comprehend tend to be more persistent in memory. That's all this research is showing.
      • Re:This is... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by daenris ( 892027 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @02:35PM (#34880890)
        I've never struggled with reading the font in a typical physical book, so the claim is still a bit ridiculous. I don't think most people are using ereaders to read electronic versions of things that they would previously have read handwritten. They're reading an electronic version of a book that is in a (most likely) similar complexity font to the printed book, so it isn't making it much (if any) easier to read on the ereader.
      • And funny enough the research shows that physical books that are even easier to read tend to be more persistant in memory. Maybe you are confusing the ease of understanding a text with the easy of which to perceive it? As in technical books are remembered more than pixie books? But what on earth does content have to do with presentation?

      • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )

        If folks would just sing out loud what they're reading, it'll stick with them better. Add in some interprative dance as well and they'll never forget. Neither will anyone else on the train.

    • Re:This is... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ProppaT ( 557551 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @02:47PM (#34881030) Homepage

      Yeah, this is BS. I remember way more of what I read on my Sony e-reader than I do from books. Probably because I don't have to read into the cracks of books and I can up the font so my eyes don't skip lines. I read so much more than I used to now that I have an e-reader its not funny. It's definitely my best purchase of 2010.

    • by HarvardAce ( 771954 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @04:20PM (#34882242) Homepage
      Clearly the solution is to convert all text into Captchas so we never forget the words!
    • Well, technically, if you think it's stupid, you probably don't agree with the findings, so your quip about reading it on your Kindle to forget it quicker isn't really funny.

    • This is consistent with previous research that showed harder to read fonts improved reading comprehension and retention. Because it was more difficult to read you concentrate more.

      Not that I think it matters much for leisure reading anyway and there nothing to indicate that the difference in quality between print fonts and kindle fonts is going to be substantial enough to trigger this effect.

    • In a series of comparative tests, readers using electronic devices read 15% slower on average than on paper positioned the same way. Higher bit-densities improved reading performance only slightly.

      Not at my desk: "citation needed"

  • E-Readers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:18PM (#34879778)

    What does this have to do with E-readers beside trying to increase article hits? The effect of readability would be just the same for a printed sheet of paper. But I guess that would not be so interesting to read about...

    • by joebok ( 457904 )

      It is definitely about more than just e-readers - at the end:

      The scientists wrote that "making material harder to learn can improve long-term learning and retention. More cognitive engagement leads to deeper processing", enabling the reader to recall the information more accurately.

      I assume that would apply to an easy to read printed page as well as electronic content. I think it is still relevant to speak to e-readers in particular since they are becoming the pinnacle of reading ease. With an e-reader we can adjust size and font and contrast, sometimes even orientation; allow us to make reading personally easier in a way not possible for print. So if this concept is accurate, we can unknowingly be sub-optimizing our effo

      • Re:E-Readers? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Em Adespoton ( 792954 ) <> on Friday January 14, 2011 @04:17PM (#34882206) Homepage Journal

        This all depends on the intent of the readers who were used as test subjects in this study. If they were told "read this text as fast as you can and tell me what it says," the scientists would end up with the results mentioned. If they were told "memorize this text" I'm pretty sure the results would be different.

        After all, when speed reading for instant comprehension, I use a completely different reading technique than I do for memorizing content.

        I think if you tested people from 200 years ago, there wouldn't be as much of a difference -- people tended to only read things that were of importance to them. But today, we are trained from an early age in being able to sift through large amounts of irrelevant text to find the information we're looking for. Better presentation allows us to sift through the irrelevant text faster; we don't want to remember it. We tend to spend the time scanning the text for a recognizable narrative. If we're then told to recall what that irrelevant text was, we won't have much of a clue, beyond the general structure.

        If we make the presentation more difficult, our brain cannot slip into this "scan and sift" mode as often, as we keep missing key words and phrases, having to go back and re-read the content in "comprehension" mode in order to fit it together. So it stands that if we're reading the text in comprehension mode, we'll comprehend more of it.

        If you study reading patterns, you will find that some people learn only one method of reading (not two or more) which significantly impacts their ability to learn in different environments.
        For example, someone who can only do "comprehensive" reading will fail most tests that require skimming large amounts of text in a limited amount of time and responding with the appropriate answers provided. However, give them the same content with unlimited reading time, then wait two weeks to administer the test portion, and you'll find that they are the only ones who pass the test -- and could indeed pass a more difficult test on the same content. Someone who can only do "speed" reading will have the opposite problems. Most of us can do both to some degree; the skill of switching context between the two methods appropriately is a third variable however; people will usually tend towards one method or the other depending on what they're intending to absorb from the presented material. Hence, the Scientist's test has to take this intent into consideration (and I see no indication that it has).

        Conclusion: I don't think these scientists tested exactly what they think they tested; time to go back and fine-tune the test and analyze the conditions within which the test was administered to the subjects.

  • by tarsi210 ( 70325 ) <nathan AT nathanpralle DOT com> on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:18PM (#34879782) Homepage Journal
    TFA failed to mention that the bulk of the content found on the e-Readers surveyed was copies of the Twilight series and whatever's on O's list these days.

    Somehow, I doubt it's the font that is making everyone stupid...
    • i always remember stuff thats written in comic sans!
    • Stupid is whut stupid duz, thats whut Momma sez!

  • Have these people been dipping into my stash again?
  • And yet... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:22PM (#34879838)

    And yet despite this supposed discovery the person put it out on a webpage which has to be read on a computer screen. I guess he didn't think his discovery was that important since we are all now going to forget it easier? Wouldn't it have been preferable to put scanned images of his handwriting instead?

  • Paper? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metrometro ( 1092237 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:22PM (#34879846)

    Anyone who has ever worked in Information Design can tell you that paper, with it's stunning contrast ratios and 1200 dpi printing is a far more precise medium than screens. WTF?

    • Paper bends, which makes the lines of text not straight and the lighting not even.
    • by 517714 ( 762276 )
      I suspect that a large part of the difference is that the search function of the cellulose based information content is so awkward that the user chooses to retain a synaptically based index of the information. With an eBook, the book is presumed to be available in the future and finding information is easy, why remember what you can lookup?
    • On an e-reader you can adjust the font and font size to make it easier on your eyes than most printed material.

      • Which would have nothing to do with eReader or not, it would have to do with font size. The research authors might be interested to know the technology to print words with various sized fonts has existed for some time now.

    • by Sigma 7 ( 266129 )

      Anyone who has ever worked in Information Design can tell you that paper, with it's stunning contrast ratios and 1200 dpi printing is a far more precise medium than screens. WTF?

      Let's say you have an 11" monitor - this measures ~10" across, or 8.5" high. Let's say it magically has 2048x1536 resolution, which is beyond current technology.

      This screen is still below 300 dpi.

      And yes, paper work provides much higher resultion when screens, as demonstrated by M.C. Escher []. While you can do the same on a computer screen, the detail will get lost if you zoom out (and you might not recognize that you can zoom further for more detail.)

  • I call bullshit on that research. Maybe the subjects for it were the hipsters that don't really have anything interesting to read but love to sit on the grass in popular parks to show-off their pseudo-intellectuality with an e-reader on their hands.
  • Study too small... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ( 197454 ) <> on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:23PM (#34879862) Homepage

    The study had 28 participants... and they were asked to remember species of aliens...

    While this may be a sign that it's worth looking into the differences a font makes in learning, I'll wait until a bigger study comes out where participants were asked to read a more likely and involved subject matter like the history of the Ottoman Empire.

    I have a feeling many participants will be less likely to read past the first chapter if it was written in Comic Sans.

    • by myrdos2 ( 989497 )
      If the test showed statistical significance, it won't matter if they increase the sample size, the results will be the same.That's what statistical significance is FOR. Besides, this effect is well known in the field of human memory. The longer your brain focuses on something, the better you'll remember it.
      • Uh, but you need to pass a certain threshold for a statistical significance to become actually meaningful. I mean, using your (unrestrained) logic, one could use a sample size of 3 and convey some meaning from the "statistical significance" when 33% of the sample size behaved differently than the rest of 67%. I mean, they're trying to make a conjecture to the whole population which means that their sample size also has to reflect this selfsame population somehow or become meaningless.
        And for your focusing
      • If the test showed statistical significance, it won't matter if they increase the sample size, the results will be the same.That's what statistical significance is FOR.
        Its a while since I did any stats but IIRC statistical significance means the chance of getting the results you got or worse results by random chance is lower than some threshold, usually quite a high one. A 5% significance level means that 1 in 20 tests you will get a positive result by random chance.

        1 in 20 tests giving a false positive ma

      • by Desler ( 1608317 )

        If the test showed statistical significance, it won't matter if they increase the sample size, the results will be the same.

        Wrong. Statistical significance implies nothing of the sort. All it says is that the results didn't come about by chance it in no way implies that the same results will happen regardless of sample size nor that the results are even meaningful. Maybe you should actually go back and relearn the basics of statistics before spouting off such nonsense?

        • by myrdos2 ( 989497 )

          If your results are different because you had a small sample size, then they DID come about by chance. See [] Some excerpts:

          Power analysis can be used to calculate the minimum sample size required to accept the outcome of a statistical test with a particular level of confidence. It can also be used to calculate the minimum effect size that is likely to be detected in a study using a given sample size.

          For example, if we were expecting a population correlation betw

  • by javakah ( 932230 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:24PM (#34879870)

    There were two main criteria that he used for describing if something is easily forgotten or not: ease of reading visually and complexity of writing.

    It seems as if he's advocating making fonts and such harder to read, so that we are more likely to remember what we read, regardless of whether what we are reading is some trashy novel or a manual that we need to know to save lives. This seems wrong. We should be remembering details from what we read based on the quality and importance of the writing, not the font.

    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      It seems as if he's advocating making fonts and such harder to read, so that we are more likely to remember what we read, regardless of whether what we are reading is some trashy novel or a manual that we need to know to save lives.

      And yet he posts it to a blog using an easy to read font. Apparently he didn't want any to be more likely to remember his discovery?

    • A life-saving manual should absolutely be easy to read, and also entertaining. The best example can be found in Fallouts 1 & 2, where each life-saving tip is augmented by a drawing to remind you of the consequences of your actions.
  • by ScientiaPotentiaEst ( 1635927 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:27PM (#34879932)

    Interesting contrast to my experience: I find black ink on paper (using standard TR font) easier to read than the lower contrast text on eReaders and monitors. Flat panel monitors have no detectable flicker like the old CRT monitors (even at high vertical refresh rates with no interleaving) - but their contrast is poorer.

    In my case, the "tangible" aspect of turning physical pages seems to make the information stick better. Perhaps that's due to familiarity with the format.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday January 14, 2011 @01:29PM (#34879960) Homepage Journal

    gah, so wrong.

    What it points to is that people need to read more challenging works. Something with new words or clever phrases.

    Remembering a crappy sentence just because some ink is smudges, or that the font is blurry helps nothing.

    On guy extrapolating research he doesn't seem to understand into his person experience means, exactly..nothing.

    He likes books, and is just fishing for excuses that justifies his love of books.

    Me? I have read a lot of books. I don't love books, I love good stories. The book is nothing, the story is everything.

  • Even if true, I'd bet you a dollar it's learned preference and will be completely different in the coming years. I'd wager that the preference has to do with how we're taught the 'weight' of the printed word either in libraries from when we were children, or contextual learning, like ignoring the fine print in a drug ad. I'd also bet that a similar study would show that we forget things read in magazines more quickly than things read in books. And I bet we remember hardcover books more than softcover, et
  • This sounds more like a story from there and less like a scientific research study. Even then, I can remember reading certain Slashdot stories from 3 years ago more than I can remember the plot outline of the Wheel of Time, which I started reading 2 years ago.

    • by nomadic ( 141991 )
      Even then, I can remember reading certain Slashdot stories from 3 years ago more than I can remember the plot outline of the Wheel of Time, which I started reading 2 years ago.

      I remember the Wheel of Time plotline, but that's only because I remember the Dune plotline and they're pretty much the same.
  • ... on ways to tell us to go outside more. When did science stop doing cool stuff like shooting rockets in space or write words with atoms and start sounding like my mom?
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      SO you based your statement that science is 'running out of ideas' on an article from a blog? one that doesn't even seem to understand the study he is talking about?

      The real question is "When are you going to stop and think?"

      Good science is being done every day all around the world. I was reading an article on how they can now determine the hair color from genetic material any where from 60% to 90% certainty depending on the color. If memory serves 90% for red heads, 60% for blondes.
      That's great science. Di

      • The real question is "When are you going to stop and think?"

        I'll take "People who take jokes at face value" for 100, Alex.

  • sponsored this research? I'd like to avoid them in the future.
  • No pain, no gain? No problem, just use MS Comic Sans on it and the text will burn in your forehead for weeks.
  • 1. The text is much harder to read than regular ink on paper.
    2. The text is much easier to read than regular ink on paper.

    I'm glad the commentators of the world have been able to identify these two problems.

    That said, yes, it's been observed in the past that harder to read text can produce stronger memories, but this is not necessarily a good tradeoff, depending on what you're reading and why.

    • I find it hard to read or even remember what I read on a Kindle type display, because the black on greyish contrast is offputting. I find myself distracted by the display and not focusing on the text.

  • Next on news: memory bits are too easy on computer's CPUs.

  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @02:00PM (#34880436)
    All those years they made fun of me for running 2560x1600 on my 19" CRT, saying I was going to ruin my eyes because it was so hard to read. At least I remember everything I read over the years.
  • by DBCubix ( 1027232 ) on Friday January 14, 2011 @02:02PM (#34880466)
    and people won't forget your message
  • I have RTFA, but I've already forgotten it.

    QED. ;^P

  • We already digitally add graininess, snow, and other effects to video images when we want them to look like older methods of video capture. If this is an actual problem (which I find doubtful), then within a few years you'll likely see companies adding mechanisms to introduce imperfections into the fonts of their e-reading devices. Either that, or they'll all just use Comic Sans, since there are few fonts that are more painful to read in today's marketplace.

    • by macshit ( 157376 )

      Oddly, when I recently looked at Sony e-readers in the store, all the texts they had loaded onto the thing were actually quite hmm, "dirty" -- the characters didn't have the typical crisp shapes and outlines of electronic text but rather had ragged edges and dropouts all over the place. Maybe they loaded image-pdfs for some reason (presumably because the employee in charge of doing it was too clueless to tell the difference), or maybe there was a problem with the eink hardware.

      Easier to remember or not, t

  • Here's the actual study [] which describes this phenomenon.

    I'm now switching my browser defaults to Arial so I can forget everything I read on Slashdot faster.

  • New research suggests that the clear screens and easily read fonts of e-readers makes your brain "lazy."

    Given that introduction, TFA is made of epic fail if it lacks the following two elements:

    • Use of any phrase similar to "Researchers went on to state that, when they were the age which most E-Reader users are now, they had much more difficult paper from which to read, which, they claim, kept their minds sharp as a tack, unlike what they describe as 'you whippersnappers' get babied with these days."
    • A conclusion that involves the strong implication that the reader should get off the researchers' lawns.
  • by bugi ( 8479 )

    Cover your eyes the better to see with.

    Cover your ears the better to hear with.

    Cover your mouth the better to speak with.

  • What about regular books ? Crisper fonts, and better contrast compared to e-readers.

  • From TFA:

    When you are a reading a straightforward sentence, or a paragraph full of tropes and cliches, you’re almost certainly relying on this ventral neural highway. As a result, the act of reading seems effortless and easy. We don’t have to think about the words on the page.

    But the ventral route is not the only way to read. The second reading pathway – it’s known as the dorsal stream – is turned on whenever we’re forced to pay conscious attention to a sentence, perhaps because of an obscure word, or an awkward subclause, or bad handwriting.

    Well that says it all, doesn't it. If you want people to remember what you wrote, write something interesting that doesn't consist of tropes and cliches and therefore motivates the reader to pay conscious attention. If you insist on writing something inane full of tropes and cliches, publish in Bad Handwriting Sans, throw in an obscure word or two and several awkward subclauses or maybe you could translate the entire thing into linear B.

    There are good reasons for activating conscious attention and

  • "If it was hard to write, it should be hard to read."

  • Totally agree. Anything anybody writes using LaTeX must be important and clever because the default font is so darn ugly.

  • When text is harder to read, this forces our cognitive resources on the shape of the letters and how letters form words. We try to find familiar words in the confusing medium, and therefore as a side effect focus on unknown words, such as the name of those "fictional alien species" which the readers were tested against.

    So they're right in that when we read harder, we're better at noticing the particular spelling of unknown words. But what do we sacrifice in the process? Our focus shifts to merely trying to

  • I have the Kindle app on my iPad, and my main observation is that I read a lot faster. The amount of text per screen is less than on a printed page, but it's just about right to read at a glance. It's a shame the battery life sucks compared to a real Kindle.

    ...laura, unashamed Apple fangirl

  • I've known a number of women who were also "so easy on the eyes", and I'm pretty sure I remember them all in detail.

  • In contrast, handwriting and fonts that are more challenging to read signal to the brain that the content of the message is important and worth remembering, experts say.

    I don't know who these experts are or why they say that, but for me handwriting and fonts that are more challenging to read signal to the brain that the content isn't worth reading because it's too much trouble, causing me to stop reading and go do something else.

  • Driving a manual transmission engages the driver more than an automatic, and thus are more aware of their surroundings (and are arguably safer drivers for it). Automatics just allow people's attention to be focused on screaming kids and hot girls walking down the sidewalk.

    e-readers are the automatic transmission of reading? Well, probably not as bad as books-on-tape, but I can see a tiny hint of validity to these findings.

  • That explains why doctor's handwriting looks like my 2-year olds...harder to read, more important...Time to start writing in my newly designed crap font....

  • Making text harder to read makes for more eyestrain and headaches.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.