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Bogus Science Alert: eReaders Make You Dumber

Posted by Aaron Munter on January 14, 2011 in Mobile, Tech |

Wait, is it April 1? Seems like an April Fool’s post to me…

Over at the UK’s Telegraph paper, there’s an article saying that a neuroscience blogger determined that because eReaders are too easy to read, you forget things faster and your brain gets lazier.

Hm. Where to begin?

First, a cheap shot: a ‘neuroscience blogger’? As Joan Cusack said in “Working Girl”: Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna.

But back to logic for a second. First, the intent of eReaders (with eInk, Amazon’s Kindle technology in particular) is to replicate as closely as possible the experience of an actual book. That means low glare on the page, high contrast between the text and paper, and appropriate margins, among other things. So the clearest eReader would be closest to…

…the same technology we’ve used to read for centuries. So if clarity = brain laziness, then we’ve been awfully brain-lazy for hundreds of years. And by that logic, in fact, eReaders are more “challenging” to the brain than a book, so we should all abandon books and run to our nearest eReader.

(Which, by the way, early human-computer interaction science found in terms of reading on a screen versus reading on paper — it does make our brains work harder. But it makes them work harder at the medium, not the message. Not exactly the best kind of cognitive workout.)

Now there is a potentially accurate bit buried in the article: that more complex sentences are more challenging to read than more simple ones. But that seems … well, like a pretty simple conclusion.

What’s most amazing to me is not that some “neuroscience blogger” actually wrote this pseudoscience, but that it got picked up by a newspaper of some repute. Maybe the Telegraph’s editors were reading it on their Kindle.

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