Scientists say screens hurt our ability to comprehend the information we read

screens hurt reading ability gettyimages 700712379
Getty Images
Do you ever find yourself reading through a scientific article and feeling like your brain is imploding as you try to wrap your head around some of its heavy-duty concepts? It may be the fact that you spend too much time staring at screens!

According to a new piece of research coming out of Pennsylvania State University, adult readers who spend a lot of time using electronic devices turn out to be less adept at understanding scientific texts. Compared to folks who read on paper (which, we believe, is a kind of high-res display made out of wood pulp), people who look at screens for hours each day — whether it’s reading articles, texting, or playing games — find that they pick up only short fragments of information, as opposed to incorporating the information in a more thorough manner.

“Scientific reading is different from casual reading, and it requires the reader to put the science concepts together in a way different from putting stories and plots together,” Ping Li, professor of psychology and linguistics at Penn State, told Digital Trends.

The researchers based their conclusions on studies involving hundreds of participants, recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk. Participants were asked to read eight different scientific articles, covering topics including electrical circuits, permutation, GPS, Mars, and supertankers. After reading each article, the participants were then quizzed on 10 multiple choice questions about the article, as well as being asked to sort key terms from the articles into groups. These questions were designed to test both facts and relations between the scientific concepts. The participants additionally provided background information about themselves, such as how often they were engaged in using electronic devices per day for reading and non-reading activities, such as gaming. Their comprehension scores on the questions were then predicted by factors such as the difficulty of the text and their reading habits, using correlation and multiple regression analyses.

But Li isn’t as depressed about schools’ ever-growing focus on using tools like iPads as you might expect. “I’m a big advocate of digital learning using cyber-enabled technologies, so this particular work does not imply that we should not read science on e-devices,” he said. “We could combat some of the negative effects of e-devices by making smart use of them. One example, from our own research, is that 3D-visualization tools provide an excellent platform for understanding scientific concepts.”

Next up, he says he would like the team to drill down on how reading on different electronic devices affects readers. “My hypothesis is that Kindle will yield more similar results as a print book, as compared with reading on an iPhone or iPad,” he told us.

Emerging Tech

Bees can do arithmetic, setting the scientific community abuzz

A new study has found something remarkable: Bees can do basic arithmetic. Researchers showed that bees could use colors as representations for numbers and then use those colors for addition and subtraction.
Computing

Chrome is a fantastic browser, but is is still the best among new competitors?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Norsemen’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Smart Home

No strings attached: This levitating lamp uses science to defy gravity

Now on Kickstarter, the Levia lamp is a cool industrial-looking lamp which boasts a levitating bulb. Looking for a table light that will dazzle visitors? You've come to the right place.
Emerging Tech

The Great White Shark’s genome has been decoded, and it could help us end cancer

In a significant step for marine and genetic science, researchers have decoded the genome of the great white shark. The genetic code revealed a wealth of insight into what makes these creatures so successful from an evolutionary standpoint.
Emerging Tech

‘Guerrilla rainstorm’ warning system aims to prevent soakings, or worse

Japanese researchers have created a "guerrilla rainstorm" early-warning system aimed at preventing severe soakings, or worse. The team hopes to launch the system before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Mobile

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft will collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu by shooting at it

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will soon touch down on the asteroid Ryugu, where it will collect a sample by shooting a bullet into the soil. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2020 to learn about the formation of asteroids.
Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

Hong Kong wants to bring prisons up to date by introducing new location-tracking wristbands for inmates, and a robot arm whose job is to comb through poop on the lookout for contraband.
Emerging Tech

No faking! Doctors can now objectively measure how much pain you’re in

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered the blood biomarkers that can objectively reveal just how much pain a patient is in. Here's why that's so important.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch the world’s first privately-funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.