Books vs. eBooks: The Science Behind the Best Way to Read

When browsing the bookstore to buy a gift for that special someone (or yourself), you may be faced with a difficult decision: e-book or vintage? Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the best option depends on many factors.

Some of the practical advantages of going digital are obvious: Portable small e-readers can carry your entire library with you, which is great for travelers or those who always want a choice of reading material.

On the other hand, a growing body of research shows that reading on paper also has many benefits. Plus, there’s the nostalgia factor.

“First, consider the person and their lifetime preferences,” Dr. Matthew H. Schneeps, director of the Visual Learning Lab, a collaboration between UMass Boston and MIT, told CBS News in an email. “Some people absolutely love the look, smell and feel of a classic book in their hands, and they may not want to give up the sensory experience of reading a paper book. If the recipient of your gift is a gadget-loving but rarely used traditional book reader, give away electronically. The gift of a reader could be a life-changing experience for them.”

Here’s some science to consider before buying a Kindle, Nook, or a bunch of new hardcover books.

Young, reluctant readers prefer e-readers

A 2014 study published in the journal Library and Information Science Research found that among 143 10th graders, e-readers were the most preferred. Boys and those who are less into reading also have a strong preference for e-readers.

“E-readers have more in common with paper books than electronic devices that young people use all the time, such as smartphones or iPads, in terms of turning pages, adjusting font sizes, etc.” Åse Kristine, lead author of the study Tveit told CBS News in an email.

Reading on paper may improve memory

Several small studies have shown that reading on paper rather than on an electronic screen is better for memory and concentration. The Guardian reports on an experiment in Norway where people could read a short story on a Kindle or paperback; those who read the paperback were more likely to remember the plot points in the correct order when they were asked later .

“When you’re reading on a piece of paper, you can use your fingers to feel the stack of pages on the left grow and shrink on the right,” lead researcher Anne Mangan, of the University of Stavanger in Norway, told the Guardian. There’s a sense of progress…perhaps this helps the reader in some way, giving the reader more fixation and solidity to the sense that the text unfolds and progresses, so that the story becomes more solid.”

Paper for readers with sleep problems and eyestrain

The high screen brightness of electronic devices can cause visual fatigue, a condition characterized by tired, itchy, burning eyes.

There are also potential considerations for people reading e-books on illuminated e-readers at night (although many e-readers don’t use illuminated screens), Dr. Margaret K. Merga, a reading and education expert in Australia, told CBS News in an email. . “Artificial light exposure from illuminated e-readers may interfere with the user’s ability to sleep, ultimately causing adverse health effects.”

A 2014 study published in the journal PNAS found that reading e-books before bed reduced the production of melatonin, a hormone that prepares the body for sleep. The next day, e-books also diminished alertness.

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Ebook Helps the Visually Impaired

People with dyslexia, such as poor vision or dyslexia, can benefit even more from ebooks, as they offer a range of options for changing text size and line spacing. A 2013 study in the journal PLOS One looked at reading comprehension and speed in 103 high school students with dyslexia. The study found that people with dyslexia read more efficiently and easily when using an e-reader compared to reading on paper.

“The difference is the device’s ability to display extremely short lines of text (about two or three words per line), as well as its ability to space,” said Snipes, the paper’s first author.

His team has a website where people can preview how some of these features will work before buying. Try the interactive tips at

love of books

Many book lovers still prefer traditional options and value the tactility of bound paper books. “Paper books are usually very well designed, they look and smell good, and they have a more human feel to them,” Twitt said.

Avid readers also tend to prefer to read on paper, according to Merga’s experience with Australian students. While conducting the Western Australian Adolescent Reading Study (WASABR), Merga and colleagues found that students prefer to read printed books. “One student described this attitude as a preference for ‘owning something (rather than just using it)’,” Merga said.

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