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Bin the newspaper -- Older adults find it easier to read on tablets

by Doug Drinkwater

February 7 2013

Older readers still prefer to read print copies, but actually find reading easier on backlit devices like the iPad
Older readers still prefer to read print copies, but actually find reading easier on backlit devices like the iPad

Older readers may still prefer their printed book or newspaper, but an eye-opening new study suggests that reading on a tablet is actually better for them.

Researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany recently carried out a comprehensive study into the brain power (also known as “neural effort”) required when reading text on paper, eReaders and backlight devices like tablets.

Prior to the study the 36 younger participants (aged between 21 and 34) and 21 older adults (60 years old and over) expressed an “overwhelming” preference for reading on paper, but then came the surprise – older readers actually had an easier time reading on tablets.

Testers arrived at this conclusion having compared readers’ eye movements and brain activity when reading a variety of texts, and said that older folk required lower brain activity when reading on a tablet compared to the two other mediums. This enabled the readers to finish a page in three to four seconds faster.

Researchers put this down to “better text discrimination on the backlit displays”, and also noted that older readers are less sensitive to contrast. With this considered, the university argued that a high contrast setting on a tablet could help older readers.

In comparison, results for young readers were much more even across the board. These folk showed similar eye movements and EEG measures of brain activity, irrespective of whether they were reading text on a tablet, eReader or a printed copy.

Apple’s iPad was used as the tablet in the survey, while researchers opted for Amazon’s Kindle as the eReader of choice.

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