Audiobook vs. PaperBook: Which Way of “Reading” Absorbs Information Better?

By | April 22, 2021
audiobooks vs paperbooks

Scientists have found out if audiobooks are as well received as printed books.

Spoiler alert: Probably not. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Beth Rogowski, a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, admits that while she loves audiobooks, she always felt there was a catch to them.

To confirm or deny her feelings, Rogowski conducted an experiment: three groups of people were introduced to the text of Laura Hillenbrand’s popular science book about World War II, Irresistible.

One group listened to the audiobook, another group read, and the third group read and listened. The subjects were then asked to fill out a questionnaire with different questions about the text to see how well they understood and remembered it.

Books are different

Rogowski’s “subjects” answered the questionnaire in about the same way. The experiment showed no significant correlation between the way they received information and their ability to comprehend it.

audiobooksTrue, Rogowski’s subjects used readers for reading. Another researcher, Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of Growing Up Kids Who Read, said he thinks e-books may be perceived differently than classic paper books.

Willingham is convinced that the audio format loses out to the text format. He says that to properly assimilate the information a person must understand where on the page the text is situated.

Professor Willingham also focuses on what he calls regressive eye movement while reading. When we hold a book in our hands, our eyes constantly return to the text we are reading. It is as if we are questioning the book to see if we have understood a line or sentence correctly.

This unconscious movement helps us perceive what we are reading much better. The audio file, too, can theoretically be shoved back and reread, but in practice few people do so.

Also, as we read and listen to books, our thoughts periodically drift off to some other topic. If you are distracted from the printed text, it is quite easy to find the place where you are “lost. This is not the case with audiobooks.

What’s more, even flipping pages gives you an advantage! While you’re flipping, your brain is resting and absorbing new information. And while listening to audio, you can’t emphasize or highlight important information.

Willingham even conducted his own experiment – he asked one group of students to prepare for an exam using text, and another group – using podcasts and audio lectures to prove his theory. The second group averaged lower grades than their classmates, who studied from books.

Practice will help

Daniel Willingham does not rule out the possibility that all these “difficulties” can be overcome by practice, because the more often we do something, the better we succeed.

The professor admits that the audiobook has one, but monumental, advantage: mankind has been transmitting and receiving information verbally for tens of thousands of years.

And we learned to read, by anthropological standards, only recently. “When we read, we use parts of the brain that have evolved for other purposes,” Willingham explains.

We get a lot of information from the timbre, tone, and speed of speech as well. An emotion such as sarcasm is also much easier to pick up by ear.

Conclusion: if you like to listen to audiobooks for fun and entertainment, most likely, the significant difference with the printed text is not noticeable.

Try not to combine listening with other important things – and don’t expect to understand and memorize serious nonfiction, maneuvering in heavy traffic.

But it’s better to read complex and important texts on work and study. It’s better that way.

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