The COST action E-READ started in November 2014, as a collaboration between researchers from all over Europe. Right from the start, this EU collaboration is led by the Reading Centre (University of Stavanger), represented by Professor Anne Mangen.
Four years later, nearly 200 researchers, from over 30 countries and with different academic backgrounds, are involved in the COST E-READ collaboration.
On the 3rd and 4th October, a number of these will gather for the collaboration's closing conference in Stavanger, organized by the University of Stavanger and the Reading Centre.
Reading and digitization
The objective of COST E-READ has been - and is - increasing knowledge about the potential impact of digitization on how we read different types of texts for different purposes.
The researchers - with a scientific background from psychology, neuroscience, literature, pedagogy, education, linguistics, history of books and media science - have collaborated on finding answers to various questions in this new field.
Their overall questions can be formulated as follows: "What does digitalization do with our reading methods?"
A problem that can be stated as: "How does reading change when we go from screen to paper and what do we know about the differences between these two ways to read?"
An overall question of the researchers i what digitalization does with our reading methods. (Photo: Getty)
Results are presented at the conference
A preliminary answer from this work over these four years is that "the current wholesale adoption of digital screens - in educational as well as leisure settings - is profoundly affecting our reading habits."
More and more in-depth and concrete results from the research are presented at the conference in Stavanger this autumn. Among others by Professor Maryanne Wolf, who is the keynote speaker.
The internationally renowned reading researcher has published the books "Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain" and "Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century". Her last book - "Reader, Come Home" - is currently being published.
Maryanne Wolf is the keynote speaker at the COST E-READ conference at the University of Stavanger this fall. (Photo: Rod Searcey)
Will we read as "deeply" in the future?
The term "deep reading" will be central to Wolf's lecture. "Deep reading" means reading that invites to critical reflection, contemplation, deeper understanding and insight.
Another important factor is how the framework conditions for this are changing as a result of digitization.
In an interview with the conference organizers, Wolf makes the following reflections on the core of this kind of reading in the present and future:
"Deep reading processes, which require extra time and conceptual effort, may become threatened by a mode of reading that privileges fast processing of multiple forms of information with little time to allocate to slower and more demanding processes. This is because when readers are barraged by a continuous stream of novel stimuli, there will be significant effects on the quality of their attention and memory processes. If what we know helps predict what we read, and we are spending less time consolidating what we know, there will be downstream effects on the rest of the deep reading processes."
Paper vs. tablet
E-READ leader Anne Mangen has in her own research project identified the issues that arise when reading in our day and age becomes more and more digital, for example in terms of memory and understanding.
In one of her tests, Mangen gave test participants a 28-page detective novel to read - either on Amazon Kindle or in paper format. After the participants had read the novel, they received a number of questions about the text. On some of these questions, those who had read the text on paper scored the best:
"We found that those who had read the print pocketbook gave more correct responses to questions having to do with time, temporality, and chronology (e.g., when did something happen in the text? For how long did something last?) than those who had read on a Kindle. And when participants were asked to sort 14 events in the correct order, those who had read on paper were better at this than those who had read on the Kindle," she stated to the magazine Fast Company.
Anne Mangen has in her own research project identified the issues that arise when reading in our day and age becomes more and more digital (Photo: Getty)
Digital and analogue side by side
The researchers have not concluded what might be the cause of such a difference, but a possible explanation may lie in an aspect of meta understanding.
"Metacomprehension refers to how well we are ’in touch with’, literally speaking, our own comprehension while reading. For instance, how much time do you spend reading a text in order to understand it well enough to solve a task afterwards?" says Mangen.
In this context, a study showed that people think they understand information better when they read it on screen. Something that may have led them to read the text much faster than those who read it in paper format.
Nevertheless, it is not the conclusion that paper is always "better" than reading on screen, but that it depends on many factors related to both reading methods, type of text, and reader's experiences and expectations:
"It is not–and should not be–a question of either/or, but of using the most appropriate medium in a given situation, and for a given material/content and purpose of reading. A good starting point is to keep in mind that all media/technologies (old as well as new) have distinct user interfaces, and that the user interface of paper in some circumstances and for some purposes may support key aspects of reading (retention of complex information) or of study (writing notes in the margins) better than digital devices do", Mangen states in the article.
Paper is not always "better" than reading on screen, it depends on many factors related to both reading methods, type of text, and reader's experiences and expectations. (Photo: Getty)
What does reading do with empathy and relationships?
Digitization is not the first time the human memory process has been influenced by technology. Also the invention of the written language 6000 years ago and printing over 500 years ago, created major changes in this field, researchers Massimo Salgaro and Adriaan van der Weel point out, both of who are central to the E-READ network.
In this aspect, the two are concerned with a more concrete side of the influence: can reading fiction help to develop both oneself and your relationships with others, which is a question they ask in an article published in The Conversation.
"Scholars have indeed recently provided empirical evidence for claims that literary reading positively affects social cognition, social skills and empathy. Psychologist Raymond Mar and his colleagues found that the more fiction people read – and it can be of any kind – the better they scored on tests that measure a form of empathy", they write in their article.
Must adapt the tools to the needs
Salgaro and van der Weel also present their own experiments here, which showed that "readers of works on paper engage more deeply while those who use digital devices tend to read more shallowly."
Their conclusion, however, is not about skipping the screen for the benefit of paper.
"So do we want to really sharply contrast digital and paper reading, and do we oppose reading from screens? No. We need to adapt our tools to our needs and to develop them in order deliberately to make reading a profound component of our social and cultural habits. The more we understand about digital reading the more we can salvage from the precious past we inherited," they summarize.
The issue of what is the "best" on paper and screen, and E-READ's research on these issues, is also featured in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine.
These are just a few of the approaches to this major subject, and more in-depth analyzes are presented at the conference in Stavanger on 3rd October.