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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reading from books is better for you than reading online

Just half an hour of reading, either with a book or a tablet, can have a multitude of positive effects on your mental health, and 'slow reading clubs' are popping up around the world to do just that. Just don't check Twitter halfway through...
Image: Frida Sakaj
The Slow Reading Club of Wellington in New Zealand is a small group of people who all go to a cafe at the same time, shut their phones off, and read for an hour. It doesn’t sound that revolutionary, but the ‘slow reading’ movement has been gaining momentum around the world, and research has suggested that it could be having many significant effects on the participants’ brains.
Members of the group would happily tell you that the benefits they’re getting from their commitment to 'slow reading' include improvements in concentration and the ability to think through difficult concepts and emphasise with other people's feelings and beliefs, and a slew of recent studies seem to back these claims up.
According to Jeanne Whalen at the Wall Street Journal, a study published last year in the journal Neurology and conducted by researchers from the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center and Departments of Neurological Sciences at the Rush University Medical Center in the US, showed that in 300 elderly people, those that engaged regularly in activities that challenged them mentally, such as reading, had slower rates of memory loss as they aged. And last year, a separate study published in Science revealed that reading literary fiction could actively improve your ability to understand and empathise with other people’s mental states and beliefs. 
"Yet reading habits have declined in recent years,” says Whalen. "In a survey this year, about 76 percent  of Americans 18 and older said they read at least one book in the past year, down from 79 percent in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center."
Because many of us now read more on our phones than we are from books and even tablets, we’ve unwittingly changed the way we take in words. In 2006, an eye-tracking report by scientists at the US-based research group, Nielsen Norman, showed that people read web pages in an “F” pattern, scanning the top line all the way, then halfway across the next few lines, and then only down the left side of the page, all the way down to the bottom of the article. This kind of reading helps us scan quickly for important words to spark our interest, but does nothing for our ability to actually gain a deeper understanding of what we’re reading. 
And as much as rich multimedia-laden content captures our attention, with a mixture of words, sounds, and moving gifs, videos and image galleries, studies have shown that together they can lead to lower comprehension than just reading plain text, says Whalen at the Wall Street Journal. So while access to the Internet wherever we go has placed all the information in the world at our very fingertips, consuming it quickly from a smartphone screen, as we navigate our way through all the bells and whistles offered up by multimedia, is not as effective as focussing our attention on one text, and reading it slowly, whether it's in a physical book, or on a tablet screen.
Someone pass us a paperback, we're off to find the nearest cafe with a fireplace and something mulled. 
Source: Wall Street Journal

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