fpsyg-10-00038 February 4, 2019 Time: 16:4 # 1
published: 15 February 2019
Francesca Marina Bosco,
Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy
Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy
Institut National de la Santé et de la
Recherche Médicale (INSERM),
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 20 September 2018
Accepted: 08 January 2019
Published: 15 February 2019
Mangen A, Olivier G and Velay J-L
(2019) Comparing Comprehension
of a Long Text Read in Print Book
and on Kindle: Where in the Text
and When in the Story?
Front. Psychol. 10:38.
Comparing Comprehension of a
Long Text Read in Print Book and on
Kindle: Where in the Text and When
in the Story?
Anne Mangen1, Gérard Olivier2and Jean-Luc Velay3*
1Norwegian Reading Centre, University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway, 2Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Récits Cultures Et
Sociétés (LIRCES EA 3159), Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice, France, 3Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives
(UMR 7192), CNRS and Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France
Digital reading devices such as Kindle differ from paper books with respect to the
kinesthetic and tactile feedback provided to the reader, but the role of these features
in reading is rarely studied empirically. This experiment compares reading of a long text
on Kindle DX and in print. Fifty participants (24 years old) read a 28 page (∼1 h reading
time) long mystery story on Kindle or in a print pocket book and completed several tests
measuring various levels of reading comprehension: engagement, recall, capacities to
locate events in the text and reconstructing the plot of the story. Results showed that
on most tests subjects performed identically whatever the reading medium. However,
on measures related to chronology and temporality, those who had read in the print
pocket book, performed better than those who had read on a Kindle. It is concluded
that, basically comprehension was similar with both media, but, because kinesthetic
feedback is less informative with a Kindle, readers were not as efﬁcient to locate events
in the space of the text and hence in the temporality of the story. We suggest that, to
get a correct spatial representation of the text and consequently a coherent temporal
organization of the story, readers would be reliant on the sensorimotor cues which are
afforded by the manipulation of the book.
Keywords: reading comprehension, kinesthetic feedback, cognitive map, print-book, kindle, long text reading
The Digitization of Literary Reading
Overall, in the western world, reading is increasingly digitized. Due to the popularity of handheld,
portable digital devices such as e-readers (e.g., Kindle) and tablets (e.g., iPad), also long-form
literary reading is becoming screen- rather than print-bound. This transition invites a number of
research questions pertaining to the role of substrate aﬀordances (e.g., screen displays and paper)
on cognitive and emotional aspects of narrative, literary reading.
In striking ways, the move from paper to screen makes evident that reading is a case of human-
technology interaction (Mangen and van der Weel, 2016). In addition to more commonly addressed
perceptual and cognitive components of discourse processing, reading typically entails manual
engagement with a device (e.g., a print pocket book, an e-reader or a tablet). Diﬀerent devices have
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Mangen et al. Long-Text Reading in Print vs. Kindle
diﬀerent user interfaces and material aﬀordances (Gibson, 1977),
and the substrate of paper in a print book provides sensorimotor
contingencies (O’Regan and Noë, 2001) that diﬀer from those
of texts displayed on a screen. Print texts are physically and
tangibly contiguous with the medium, whereas digitized texts are
physically separable from their medium. This enables a digital
device to store a large number of texts and other content.
However, we know little about the ways in which such
seemingly subtle diﬀerences may interact with cognitive and
experiential aspects of reading. Reading scholars of a theoretical
ilk have emphasized how reading is more multisensory than
commonly acknowledged: “Smell and sight are relevant senses
when it comes to reading [,]” says Naomi Baron, “but touch may
well be the most important” (Baron, 2015, p. 142). Analogously,
Mc Laughlin notes how “the feel of the book to the hand, the
smell of the paper, the haptic pleasure of manipulating the screen
[. . .] reinforce and deepen the habit of reading” (Mc Laughlin,
2015, p. 31). Broadly conceptualized, “haptic” (from Greek
haptikos = able to touch) refers to the sense of touch. As such,
it encompasses both “passive” (cutaneous [tactile]) and “active”
(proprioceptive; kinesthetic) sensory processes. In the research
literature, terms such as haptic, force feedback, and kinesthetic
are often used interchangeably. In this article, kinesthetics will
refer to the combined (passive) sense of touch (e.g., pressure;
temperature) and the (active) aspects entailed in proprioception
(the sense of the relative position of muscles, joints and tendons)
and kinesthesia (the sense of movement).1Questions concerning
the role of haptics and kinesthetics in reading rise to prominence
with the current digitization, and the increasing use of e-readers
and tablets is an occasion to put such theoretical assumptions to
Reading on Paper and Screens
During the past couple of decades, scientists and scholars in
reading research have increasingly taken an interest in potential
eﬀects of technological interfaces on aspects of reading and
learning, more generally. A large number of empirical studies
have been carried out, comparing reading on computer screens
and, more recently, on tablets and smartphones, with reading on
paper (see Baron, 2015 for an overview). This research spans a
range of disciplines and a variety of methodologies, assessing the
eﬀects of screen properties on, e.g., perceptual processes (Roschke
and Radach, 2016), memory and recall (Morineau et al., 2005;
Kerr and Symons, 2006;Porion et al., 2016), comprehension
(Mangen et al., 2013;Margolin et al., 2013;Rockinson-Szapkiw
et al., 2013;Hermena et al., 2017;Hou et al., 2017;Xu et al., 2017;
Salmerón et al., 2018) and metacognition/calibration (Ackerman
and Goldsmith, 2011;Norman and Furnes, 2016;Sidi et al.,
2016, 2017). More recently, research has begun to address
topics such as ergonomics (Köpper et al., 2016), issues of
medium materiality (Hou et al., 2017) and interactions between
medium and particular text types/genres (Rasmusson, 2014;
Singer and Alexander, 2017a). As for eﬀects of medium on
1See, for instance, Klatzky and Lederman (1988),Lederman and Klatzky (1998),
and Klatzky and Lederman (2002) for more in-depth exploration of these closely
reading comprehension, the issue remains somewhat unsettled
(see Hermena et al., 2017;Xu et al., 2017). Some empirical
studies have found reading comprehension to be superior on
paper (Kim and Kim, 2013;Mangen et al., 2013;Rasmusson,
2014), whereas others show no diﬀerences between paper and
screen (Margolin et al., 2013;Rockinson-Szapkiw et al., 2013;
Porion et al., 2016). However, a recent meta-analysis (Delgado
et al., 2018) of 54 experiments published between 2000 and 2017
comparing the reading of comparable texts on paper and screens
does ﬁnd an advantage for paper both for between-participants
and for within-participants studies. The meta-analysis revealed
three signiﬁcant moderators for this main ﬁnding: (i) time frame
(i.e., the advantage for paper-based reading was stronger in time-
constrained reading than in self-paced reading); (ii) text genre:
the paper-based reading advantage was consistent across studies
using informational text or a mix of informational and narrative
texts, but there was no diﬀerence for narrative-only texts; and
(iii) publication year: contrary to assumptions of “digital natives”
becoming better screen readers with increasing screen exposure
and experience, the meta-analysis found that the advantage of
paper-based reading in fact increased from 2000 to 2017 (Delgado
et al., 2018).
In a similar vein, a systematic literature review of empirical
research (Singer and Alexander, 2017b) found that when
participants were reading texts for depth of understanding and
not solely for gist, print was the more eﬀective processing
medium. Moreover, with respect to reader preferences and habits,
a recent large international survey (Mizrachi et al., 2018) with
more than 10,000 participants found that, for academic reading,
a broad majority reported a preference for print, especially when
reading longer texts. Interestingly, participants reported that they
felt they remembered the material better and were better able to
focus when reading in print, compared to when reading digitally
(Mizrachi et al., 2018).
On another note, some studies have revealed a discrepancy
between objective and subjective measures. A study (Kretzschmar
et al., 2013) combining EEG, eye tracking and questionnaires
found that participants overwhelmingly preferred paper over
digital reading, but comprehension accuracy did not diﬀer
Visual and Ergonomic Affordances of
Paper and Screen Substrates
Screen technologies vary with respect to visual ergonomics.
Laptop/computer and tablet (LCD) screens emit light and hence
are found to cause eyestrain and visual fatigue (Baccino, 2004;
Blehm et al., 2005;Yan et al., 2008). In contrast, e-readers (e.g.,
Kindle) are based on electronic ink, a screen substrate specially
designed to mimic paper (Siegenthaler et al., 2011). Due to a
stable image, wider viewing angle, and the fact that they merely
reﬂect ambient light rather than emitting light, e-readers are
more reader friendly than tablets and computers, particularly
for longer texts. A growing body of evidence indicates that the
readability of e-readers is experienced as being equal to, and
occasionally better than, that of paper (Siegenthaler et al., 2011,
2012;Benedetto et al., 2013). In addition, with screens it is
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possible to scroll up and down the pages of a book. However,
scrolling is known to impede readers’ capacity to create an
eﬀective mental map of the text (Hou et al., 2017). For these
reasons, and unlike earlier studies on narrative reading on
paper and screen (e.g., Mangen and Kuiken, 2014;Singer and
Alexander, 2017a), we used a Kindle in the present study.
However, when reading a long text included in a book, there
is more to reading than meets the eye. Indeed, for a long
text printed on many pages, reading does not only involve the
eyes: it also involves the hands. Whereas a text displayed on a
Kindle and in a print book may be similar with respect to visual
properties (the texts look identical on paper and on screen), the
two texts diﬀer with respect to the ergonomic aﬀordances of the
substrate. Manipulating a printed-book and an e-book is not the
same. When reading print text on paper, readers have immediate
sensory – kinesthetic and tactile – access to text sequence, as well
as to the entirety of the text. The sensorimotor contingencies of
paper gives book readers visual as well as kinesthetic feedback to
their progress through a text (Mangen and Kuiken, 2014). To
know where they are in a text printed on paper, readers have
at their disposal several cues: they can have a look at the page
number (visual cue), but they can also refer to tactile-kinesthetic
cues given by the handling movements informing about the
repartition of the weight of the pages on the left and on the right
of the current page, and consequently on the number of pages
already read and on the number of pages still to read. In addition,
the page turning movements might also somehow inform about
the number of pages already read. Conversely, screen readers
have only visual information on progress and spatial location
(e.g., by page numbers or progress bars).
During holding, manipulation of the objects allows to gather
information about them even without the aid of vision (Hatwell
et al., 2003;Ittyerah, 2017). Thanks to manipulation movements,
we build an internal representation of the spatial characteristics
of the objects. Print books are special objects whose size, weight
and volume are a direct indication of the length of the text. This
is not the case when reading e-books.
Now, it is often reported by digital readers that they feel it
diﬃcult to have a clear representation on the entirety of the text
and to localize a given part of information within the text (e.g.,
Rose, 2011), and there is some empirical evidence supporting
this phenomenon (Mangen and Kuiken, 2014). For this reason,
readers of long documents on computer screen often prefer to
print the document (Baron et al., 2017;Mizrachi et al., 2018).
For a reader, being able to situate where he/she read a given
piece of information in the text is important because the relative
position of events presented in the space of the text is related to
the moment these events took place in the time of the story. For
certain types of texts, such as texts relying on plot (the unfolding
of the story in a clear logical and temporal fashion), a clear
representation of the temporal relationships between the events
in a story is crucial to build a coherent situation model sustaining
the comprehension of a text. Temporal links between events are
generally equivalent to causal connections between these events
(usually causes come before their consequences) and causal links
between events is one of the components of the situation model
(Kintsch and van Dijk, 1978;Kintsch, 1998).
When reading on a digital device, haptic and kinesthetic cues
such as these are not available to the reader. When reading on
a Kindle, for instance, the reader has access to visual cues only
with respect to the spatial location of text segments, and to the
temporal progression of reading. Therefore, the main hypothesis
of this study was that reading a relatively long, linear text on a
Kindle generates diﬃculties to localize relevant events within the
space of the text and within the time of the story.
Still, reading experiments using long narrative texts as stimuli
is scarce. In what may have been the ﬁrst experiment to compare
narrative engagement when reading a “real,” somewhat longer
(ca. 2700 words) narrative text on iPad and on paper, Mangen and
Kuiken (2014) found that the paper group reported a better grasp
of text length and of their location in the text than the iPad group.
Interestingly, however, they found no correlation between this
“sense of dislocation” with readers’ reported sense of narrative
engagement, nor did the groups diﬀer on cognitive measures
(Mangen and Kuiken, 2014).
The present study elaborates Mangen and Kuiken’s study by (i)
using a Kindle DX instead of an iPad; (ii) using a longer, literary
text in its entirety; and (iii) focusing on potential eﬀects of the
Kindle’s lack of, speciﬁcally, tactile feedback on spatial location
and progress. In addition, in the present study the stimulus text
in both conditions is matched for surface dimensions. Whereas
Mangen and Kuiken (2014) opted for using the Kindle app for
iPad to ensure comparable reader friendliness across conditions,
we modeled the print stimulus on the surface measures of the
Kindle, so that page layout, margin sizes, sentence number and
length, and number of pages were identical in Kindle and in print.
This matching was done in order to avoid visual discrepancies as
a potential confound, and was important in light of our attempt
at disentangling potential eﬀects due to visual ergonomics on the
one hand, and eﬀects due to haptics and kinesthetics on the other.
We combined cognitive measures of recall and comprehension
with subjective measures assessing experiential aspects of reading
a mystery short story on Kindle and in a print pocket book.
Speciﬁcally, we combined word- and sentence recognition tasks,
factual recall measures and assessment of readers’ ability to
reconstruct spatial and temporal aspects of the text with rating
scales assessing aspects of readers’ engagement.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Fifty young adults (mean age 24 ±3.9; 32 females) participated
in the experiment. All participants had normal or corrected to
normal vision. They signed a written and informed consent after
the procedure was fully explained and were paid for participation.
Two participants with learning diﬃculties were discarded prior
to the experiment and replaced by two new subjects. Prior
to the reading session, participants completed a questionnaire
asking about their study level, reading habits, and familiarity
with e-readers. Upon asking participants about their experience
with Kindle (or similar device) reading, it was found that
some were casual users of e-books. Only two participants among
50 were expert Kindle readers who did all their reading, including
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literary reading, on their own Kindle. Groups were matched
at best with respect to demographic variables (age, gender,
education) and reading habits (reading frequency). Considering
all these criteria, these two participants were assigned to the
Kindle group. Therefore, they read on their preferred device
but without unbalancing the two groups regarding e-reader
familiarity (see Table 1). After the reading session, we checked
with the participants if they had read the story before. This was
not the case for any of them. The study had prior approval by
the Ethics Committee of the Aix-Marseille University (N◦RCB
2010-A00155-34) and the CNRS. Participants signed a written
informed consent form prior to the study. They were fully
debriefed following their participation.
The stimulus was a 28-page (about 10,800 words) mystery story
by Elizabeth George, titled Lusting for Jenny, Inverted. The text
appears in a collection of short stories (George, 2010). Lusting for
Jenny, Inverted is a quite conventional mystery story, a “clever
tale of lust, greed and false pretenses” (Goodstein, 2010). It
tells the story of an older woman, Jenny, who is called to be
the executrix of her aunt’s will. Jenny feels unfulﬁlled with her
comfortable but boring housewife life in Long Beach, California.
When she he comes to the isolated Washington state island
community to settle her aunt’s estate, she meets a charming young
man who seems to oﬀer her romance and excitement. They
embark on an aﬀair that seems to promise complete fulﬁllment
of all of Jenny’s desires, but things get very complicated when
a very valuable stamp collection is discovered as part of the
estate. The story is plot-based, easy to read and progresses in a
linear fashion, without any signiﬁcant analepses (ﬂashbacks) or
prolepses (foreshadowing) (Genette, 1983).
Media Dimensions (Print Book and Kindle)
For the print book condition, the 28 pages of the text appeared in
a 250-page long dummy pocket book (see Figure 1). Ten blank
pages preceded the ﬁrst page of the story, and all pages following
the end of the story, were blank. The text was printed recto-
verso, just like in a “real” book. The pocketbook was 20.0 cm
in height, 14.0 cm in width and 1.8 cm thick. Its weight was
TABLE 1 | Descriptive statistics: demographics and reading habits.
Medium Sample Age Number of
Print N= 25 (16
4.2 ±2.0 2.6 ±1.0 0.3 ±0.7
Kindle N= 25 (16
4.2 ±2.1 2.4 ±1.2 0.4 ±0.9
aNumber of books read per year: 0–3 books = 1; 3–5 books = 2; 5–10 books = 3;
>10 books = 4. bE-reader familiarity: have never used a Kindle or similar device = 0,
have occasionally used a Kindle or similar device = 1, have often used a Kindle or
similar device = 2, always using a Kindle or similar device = 3.
FIGURE 1 | The print pocket book and the Kindle. The left-hand page in the
print book corresponds to the page displayed on the Kindle.
328 g. Great methodological care was taken to ensure similarity
of the visual ergonomics of both reading display. The same pdf
ﬁle was used to create both the print and the e-book. The surface
dimensions of each page (font size, sentence length, size of line
spacing and margins, letters size) were deﬁned to match exactly
those of the screen of the Kindle. In addition, the electronic ink
technology used in the Kindle allows long-form reading without
visual fatigue which could have a detrimental eﬀect on reading.
The Kindle was a Kindle DX, measuring 26.5 cm in height,
18.0 cm in width and 0.5 cm thick. The weight was 540 g. The
screen dimensions were: 20.0 cm ×14.0 cm (see Figure 1). The
reader turned the page by clicking on two buttons on the right
side, marked by color-codes and “forward” and “back” labels. In
order to ensure maximum comparability with the print book,
all other Kindle aﬀordances were disabled (e.g., the keyboard;
search options; bookmarking). Before reading, the participant
was brieﬂy shown how to turn the pages.
We were particularly interested in potential changes in the
participants’ ability to locate events in the text. To avoid that the
participants referred to the page numbers to see how many pages
they had read, we stripped the texts in both conditions for page
numbering and we concealed the progress bar of the Kindle.
Tasks and Procedure
Participants were explained that they participated to an
experiment comparing paper and e-book reading and that they
have been assigned to one of the reading groups. They were
not informed of the exact purpose of the experiment, but only
that they will have to read a short story and that they will be
asked to answer some questions after their reading. They were
not told about the content of the questions. The session took
place in a quiet room, and the participant sat in a comfortable
chair equipped with armrests. The experimenter was seated
in the opposite corner of the room, facing away from the
participant. Participants were handed the book opened on the
ﬁrst page and asked to start reading. When the participants
had ﬁnished reading, the experimenter registered the actual
reading time and the participants were asked to estimate the
duration of their reading (number of minutes). Although it is
not a common assessment in reading experiments, we used the
estimated reading time as an indirect index of how far the readers
were transported in the story: the longer the estimated time, the
lesser the transportation of the reader and vice-versa. Then, the
participants completed the tests in the following order:
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-Transportation and Engagement Scale: a shortened, 33-
item measure assessing aspects of readers’ sense of
transportation, narrative engagement and resistance to
distraction, largely adapted from Busselle and Bilandzic’s
Narrative Engagement Scale (Busselle and Bilandzic,
2009)2. This scale has been used extensively in experiments
assessing readers’ emotional engagement in narrative
ﬁctions (see e.g., Kuijpers et al., 2014).
Assessments of readers’ comprehension were inspired by Van
Dijk and Kintsch’s (1983) model of comprehension, deﬁning
comprehension as an outcome of the interaction of features of
the text and the readers’ knowledge. Van Dijk and Kintsch’s
(1983) model distinguishes between comprehension at text base
level (corresponding to the propositional representation of the
text at micro- and macro-levels), and the situation model
(referring to the representation of the text which is integrated
with readers’ prior knowledge), accommodating a nuanced
assessment of readers’ mental representations of diﬀerent textual
features at several levels In the present experiment, short-term
recall, text-based (surface) level representation were assessed by
recognition tasks, whereas situation model representation was
assessed with measures tapping into readers’ reconstruction of
the story Short term memory of words and sentences denotes
the attention readers paid to the text during reading and the text
- The Word Recognition Task consisted of 90 words.
Participants were asked “Was this word present in the text
you just read?” on a computer screen and the response was
given using the arrow keys of the keyboard.
- The Sentence Recognition Task contained 40 sentences.
Participants were asked “Was this sentence present in the
texts you just read?” with the procedure being same as for
the word recognition test.
Participants’ factual recall was assessed with a Content
Recall Questionnaire comprising 64 multiple-choice items in ﬁve
categories: (i) Characters: 23 questions about the story characters,
their physical characteristics, personality features, relationships
between characters (sample item: “How old was Jenny when
she had her ﬁrst child?”); (ii) geographical setting: 9 questions
about the locations of the story, assessing readers’ recollection
of spatial content (sample item: “What is the name of the island
where the story takes place?”); (iii) key locations: 9 questions
about key locations in the story (sample item: “In which room
in the cottage was Marion Mance found dead?”); (iv): objects: 6
questions about key objects in the story (sample item: “What is
the estimated value of the ‘inverted Jenny’ stamp?”); and (v) time
and temporality: 7 questions assessing readers’ recollection of
temporal dimensions of the story, e.g., time lapse between events,
chronology and duration of events (sample item: “For how long
do Ian and Jenny stay at Blackberry point before the owners come
back?”). Participants gave their response orally, and the examiner
registered the response.
2Cronbach’s alpha for the original Narrative Engagement Scale was 0.80 (see
Table 3 in Busselle and Bilandzic, 2009).
- “Where in the text?”: in a measure inspired by the Rothkopf
(1971). Experiment we asked participants to locate 16
sentence-length condensations of key events to their correct
place in the text: the ﬁrst (pages 1–9), second (pages 10–
18), or third part (pages 19–28) (sample item: “When did
Ian discover the value of the ‘Inverted Jenny’ stamp?”). The
question format sentences were presented, one-by-one, on
the screen and the participant gave her response orally. The
examiner registered the response.
-Plot Reconstruction Task: 14 sentence-length condensations
of key events of the story were written on laminated
pieces of paper and were presented in a shuﬄed order
to the participant. Participants were asked to sort them
in the correct order, in accordance with the plot. Upon
completion of the task, the resulting order was registered
by the experimenter.
In all tests, data from both groups were compared using
independent samples t-tests, except for the factual recall
questionnaire and the ‘where in the text?’ test for which the data
were submitted to a two-way ANOVA with repeated measures.
Objective and Subjective Measures of
Results are presented in Table 2. There was no diﬀerence between
reading media with respect to objective reading time [58 min
in average, corresponding to a reading speed of 186 words per
minute (wpm), t(48) = 0.34, ns], and reading time estimates were
nearly identical across groups [50 min, t(48) = 0.06, ns].
Transportation and Engagement Scale
For each participant, responses were summarized for all 33
items of the scale. Results showed no signiﬁcant between-group
diﬀerence between ‘print’ and ‘kindle’ groups scores [140 and 149
respectively; t(48) = 0.2, ns].
Word Recognition Task
The mean number of correct responses in this test was 59.8 (±7.5)
and 61.2 (±6.9) with the print book and kindle respectively. The
diﬀerence was not signiﬁcant [t(48) = 0.70, ns].
Sentence Recognition Task
The mean number of correct responses in this test was 27.5 (±4.4)
and 26.5 (±4.6) with the print book and kindle respectively. The
diﬀerence was not signiﬁcant [t(48) = 0.76, ns].
TABLE 2 | Mean (SD) actual and estimated reading times with both reading
Medium Actual reading time Estimated reading time
Print 59 (17) 50 (25)
Kindle 57 (20) 50 (18)
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Factual Recall Questionnaire
Results are presented in Table 3. As the number of questions
diﬀered across sentences categories, we calculated the percentage
of correct responses in each category by dividing the number of
correct responses by the number of questions in the category.
Then, the percentages were arc sinus transformed to be analyzed
by means of a two-way ANOVA with category as a within-subject
factor and reading medium (print vs. Kindle) as between-subjects
factor. The mean number of correct responses was 63.5 and
60.5% for print and e-book respectively [F(1,48) <1, ns]. The
number of correct responses diﬀered as a function of question
category [F(4,192) = 13.2, p<0.001, η2= 0.22]. Because we were
particularly interested in the “time and temporality” questions
we made a speciﬁc planned comparison between the two reading
media in this category which revealed a statistically signiﬁcant
diﬀerence [F(1,48) = 4.1, p<0.05, η2= 0.08].
‘Where in the Text?’ Measure
There was no signiﬁcant diﬀerence between the two reading
media [F(1,48) = 1.91, ns]. The ‘part of the text’ factor was
close to signiﬁcant [F(2,96) = 2.97, p<0.057]. Indicative
of a well-known recency eﬀect (Murdock, 1962;Gershberg
and Shimamura, 1994), participants scored better for questions
concerning the last third of the text, compared to the ﬁrst and
TABLE 3 | Factual Recall Questionnaire: Rate of correct responses (%).
Objects Time and
Print 76.4 60.0 62.5 61.6 57.1
Kindle 72.2 59.4 57.1 69.6 44.0
second part (Figure 2). Although this eﬀect may seem larger
in the Kindle group, the ‘medium’ by ‘part of text’ interaction
was not signiﬁcant [F(2,96) = 1.1, ns). However, the medium
comparison for the ﬁrst part only revealed a signiﬁcant eﬀect
(p<0.05, η2= 0.06). In other words, the print book readers
gave more correct responses than the Kindle readers for questions
concerning the ﬁrst part of the text.
Plot Reconstruction Task
To measure the distance between the correct arrangement of
events according to the plot, and the arrangement proposed by
the participant, we used the Kendall’s tau rank distance (Kendall,
1938, 1962), a statistical measure that corresponds to the number
of pairwise disagreements between two ranking lists. The more
the ranking list given by the participant is far from the exact
list, the larger the distance Kendall is3. The mean distance was
4.8 for the ‘print’ group and 7.8 for the ‘Kindle’ group, and a
t-test showed that the between-group diﬀerence was statistically
signiﬁcant [t(48) = 2.03, p<0.05; η2= 0.08], meaning that the
print group performed better (with a shorter distance from the
correct order) than the Kindle group on this measure (Figure 3).
Correlation Between ‘Where in the Text?’
and Plot Reconstruction Tests
Because both tests were supposed to assess the capacity to localize
events in the space of the text and to replace events of the story
3Kendall tau distance is equivalent to the number of swaps required to place one list
in the same order as the other list. If both classiﬁcations are identical, the Kendall
tau distance = 0; if both classiﬁcations are totally in opposite, the Kendall tau
distance = N (N-1) / 2 (in this case N= 14), resulting in a maximum distance of 91.
The intermediate arrangements have a distance from the correct plot arrangement
ranging from 0 to 91.
FIGURE 2 | Where in the text: rate of correct responses (%).
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FIGURE 3 | Plot reconstruction task: distance from correct order.
in the correct order, we supposed that the performance in both
tests would be somehow linked. Therefore, we made a regression
analysis of the rate of correct responses in the ‘where in the
text?’ test and the Kendall distance in the ‘plot reconstruction
test across all subjects (both reading media confounded). This
analysis revealed a signiﬁcant correlation between both variables
[R=−0.356, F(1,48)= 6.98, p<0.02]. The correlation was
negative, therefore the greater the number of correct responses
given in the ‘where in text?’ test, the smaller the distance between
the exact order of the ranking list and the list reconstructed by the
The main objective of this study was to assess the eﬀect of
material aﬀordances of a Kindle on cognitive aspects of narrative
reading. More speciﬁcally, we tested whether the Kindle’s lack of
kinesthetic and tactile feedback on the distribution and location
of text elements may negatively aﬀect aspects of readers’ cognitive
reconstruction of a narrative reading, in particular, with respect
to its temporal and chronological dimension.
The question of the material aﬀordances of the reading
support has never been really explored and in order to address
this question speciﬁcally, we made some methodological choices,
the most important being the length of the text to read.
Obviously, if the kinesthetic feedback generated by the book
manipulation matters, it can be only during long-form reading.
Therefore, in this experiment we decided to have adult readers
to read a long text (10,800 words), requiring approximately
1 h reading and hence a substantial manipulation of the book.
Such a long reading time is beyond those usually required in
experiments devoted to reading comprehension. Comprehension
of long texts involves short- and long-term memory of the text
and building a coherent situation model representation, a major
feature of which is its global organization into main points and
subordinate points (Kintsch, 1998). This situation model might
depend partly on a cognitive map, a spatial representation, of the
text (Payne and Reader, 2006;Li et al., 2013;Hou et al., 2017) that
the readers automatically build during reading and which might
be less precise when reading an e-book as compared to a print
The results showed that, on most of the measures, there were
no diﬀerences between the Kindle and the print pocket book. This
is in line with some recent reviews of reading comprehension
on paper and screen (Hermena et al., 2017;Xu et al., 2017).
This was particularly the case concerning the reading time which
has been a matter of controversies in the literature, with some
authors reporting a slower reading with tablets and others no
diﬀerence. In the present study, the reading time did not diﬀer
according to the type of reading support. Beside the actual
reading time, the level of engagement of the reader in the
reading was assessed by a questionnaire, and more indirectly, by
the subjective reading time. Neither of these measures yielded
diﬀerences between the reading media, thus we may assume that
readers’ emotional engagement were roughly the same with both
types of books. Furthermore, readers’ score on the word- and
sentence-recognition tests did not diﬀer in the two conditions,
suggesting that surface reading and attention paid to the text
did not diﬀer between the print book and the e-book. Finally,
in the recall questionnaire, most of the questions about the text
content did not yield any diﬀerences. To conclude, most of the
measures we used to assess the text comprehension did not show
any diﬀerences between print- and e-book.
Nevertheless, some diﬀerences were observed between the
media regarding tasks tapping into readers’ ability to correctly
reconstruct temporal and chronological aspects of the text. In the
recall questionnaire, on measures related to time and temporality,
those who had read in the print pocket book, performed better
than those who had read on a Kindle. The ‘where in the text?’
test, which was speciﬁcally devoted to assessing the capacity
of the readers to localize the events in the text, also yielded
results going in the same direction: paper readers were better at
localizing the events than the Kindle readers when the events
were the furthest from the end of the book (or at the beginning
of the story). Hence, the mental representation of the part of the
text corresponding to the reading events which were the most
remote in time (at the time of the task), was stronger for those
who had read on paper than for those who had read on Kindle.
Finally, the plot reconstruction test, which directly assessed the
mental representation of the chronology of the story, indicated
that print book readers had a more coherent situation model
than e-book readers.
How may these diﬀerences between the two reading supports
be interpreted? First, it is worth emphasizing here that memory
of the text per se was not aﬀected by medium. The word and
sentence recognition tests and the majority of the recall questions
yielded the same results in both reading media. Therefore,
the diﬀerences on some of the measures cannot be related
to diﬀerences in memory in the two media, nor can they be
explained by diﬀerences in attention paid to the text during
reading. If either of these had been the case, one would have
expected the Kindle group to have performed diﬀerently on all
We suggest that these diﬀerences could be interpreted as an
indication that the sensorimotor assessment of the device may be
related to certain aspects of cognitive processing and, moreover,
that these aspects are speciﬁcally related to reading longer linear
texts. The text used in the present experiment was one in which
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the temporal unfolding of events in the story corresponded
closely with their spatial localization in the text (e.g., no major
ﬂashbacks) so that there was a correspondence between “where
in the text” and “when in the story” events occur. This is shown
by the signiﬁcant correlation observed between both tests results.
In other words, the better the readers were able to locate events
in the space of the text, the better their representation of the
chronology of the story was. In this respect, the ﬁxity of a text
presented on the physical substrate of paper provides material
placeholders, functioning to oﬀ-load cognitive processes during
reading. Such oﬀ-loading may be of particular importance when
reading certain kinds of texts – for instance, long narrative texts
in which the distribution of elements (e.g., story events and
characters interactions) according to the unfolding of a narrative
(i.e., the plot) matters. On the other hand, the intangibility of
a text on a Kindle and lack of ﬁxed cues – “material anchors”
(Schilhab, 2017) – to length and spatiotemporal extension of the
text may also contribute to a loss of orientation with respect to
readers’ assessment of the temporal relations between events in
the text. The lack of ﬁxity (and hence less informative tactile
feedback) of the text displayed on the Kindle may have left
readers less conﬁdent about where they are in the text corpus
(volume), and this lack of conﬁdence may have had a negative
eﬀect on their ability to build a correct representation of the
story. Of related relevance, research has shown that having a good
mental representation of the spatial representation or layout of
the text supports reading comprehension (Baccino and Pynte,
1994;Cataldo and Oakhill, 2000;Hou et al., 2017). Somehow,
the material anchors of paper seem to have provided better
scaﬀolding for aspects of the mental reconstruction than the e-ink
display of the Kindle. However, any conclusive interpretation of
these results is challenged by the fact that establishing causality is
linked to the processing of order events, hence, inferior ordering
of events could have been expected to negatively aﬀected readers’
mental construction of causality, in turn resulting in poorer
overall comprehension. This was not the case in the present
experiment, as readers in both conditions performed equally
well on the comprehension measures. Instead, the diﬀerences
observed may be more closely related to the participants’ ability
to correctly locate single events in time, rather than their ability to
reconstruct the order of events per se, on a global level. Future
research should be designed to enable more precise assessments
of the ways in which the aﬀordances of reading substrates –
screen displays and paper – may diﬀerently aﬀect distinct, but
closely related, aspects of mental reconstruction of chronology
and temporality during perhaps especially long-form reading.
In this task, developing improved measures for inter-events
associations is pivotal.
Hou et al. (2017) distinguished two mechanisms to explain
why reading on a digital support versus on paper might result in
diﬀerent reading outcomes. The ﬁrst mechanism contends that,
because they lack ﬁxed visual anchors, screens make it diﬃcult
for readers to construct an eﬀective spatial representation of
the text and, in turn, readers are impaired in their capacity to
locate pieces of information in text. The second mechanism they
evoked is concerned with the sensorimotor engagement with
the paper or digital texts, which was highlighted in the present
experiment. We think that these two mechanisms are in fact the
two sides of the same coin: both mechanisms could be involved
simultaneously and diﬀerently depending on the visual display of
the screen and the length of the text. Visual cues, informing about
spatial relationships between parts of the text within a page, and
sensorimotor cues furnished by the book handling and informing
about spatial relationships between parts of the text disseminated
among pages of the book, likely participate to the construction
of the cognitive map of the text. In the present study, since we
compared two books with visually identical pages, we focused
more on the second aspect of reading.
Another aspect to consider which may help explain the poorer
performance on reconstruction of chronology and temporality
on a Kindle compared to paper, may be related to the “recursive
dimension” of print (see e.g., Wolf, 2018). When reading
lengthy texts, perhaps in particular narratives and novels, we
occasionally need to backtrack to remind ourselves of, for
instance, relations between characters, their names, or how events
were interconnected. When we read in a print book, we can easily
go back and check whenever needed, and we have immediate
access to earlier pages whether they are ﬁve or ﬁfty pages before
the one page we’re currently reading. Obviously, we can also
go back on a Kindle, but backtracking on a digital device is
not as quick and eﬀortless as with a paper book. Moreover, the
reader’s task of locating information on earlier pages, spatially
and temporally, is made more challenging with the lack of
materiality of a digital text – whether on a Kindle or on an iPad.
It may be that such a sense of added cognitive (and sensorimotor)
eﬀort discourages readers from going back to re-read earlier parts
of a text when reading on a digital device, with a potential eﬀect
being a sub-optimal mental representation of spatiotemporal
relations between events and/or characters. As this is the ﬁrst
experiment to compare the reading of a long, linear text on
paper and screen, we recommend that future studies are designed
to address this issue more speciﬁcally and in-depth. This could
be done by, for instance, using text manipulations that can be
assumed to trigger back-tracking and re-reading, for instance by
systematically changing information in a way that will require
updates in readers’ situation model (e.g., character names or
goals; event locations; causal or temporal relationships between
events). We may hardly conclude that reading comprehension
was aﬀected with e-book because most of the tests did not
reveal diﬀerences between print and e-book. Yet, reading on an
e-book seems to give rise to a less correct representation of the
chronology of the events occurring in the story. Because temporal
and causal links between events are usually closely connected, the
understanding of the story might be somehow diﬀerent in print
and e-book. This point needs to be studied more precisely with
longer texts and more speciﬁc measures.
Although steps were taken to ensure a more ecologically valid
experimental setting than is often the case, it can be discussed
whether the masking of page numbers (in both books) and also
hiding the progress bar on the Kindle actually introduced an
artifact that could somehow have inﬂuenced the results. Since
we were primarily interested in assessing whether the diﬀerence
in sensorimotor cues between a paper-based and a screen-based
book made a diﬀerence for aspects of comprehension, we decided
to strip both texts of any visual cues to text length. Based on
the results of the present experiment, we can only conclude
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that sensorimotor cues play a role when reading a print book,
whereas they are lacking when reading an e-book. The question
remains whether visual cues, such as the progress bar on a Kindle,
are equally eﬃcient as sensorimotor cues. Therefore, future
studies comparing long-form reading on paper and screen should
include page numbers and/or other indicators of text localization,
to assess whether such visual aids diﬀerently support mental
reconstruction on paper and screen, as compared to sensorimotor
cues. An additional limitation of the present study is that most
of the participants were novices with respect to reading on a
Kindle, and it can be claimed that they were not very avid readers
of literature. To determine the role of medium expertise and
preferences, and to empirically assess the assumptions underlying
claims about so-called “digital natives,” future studies should
compare reading diﬀerent kinds of texts on an e-reader and on
paper among expert Kindle (and similar device) readers. It would
be interesting to also replicate this ﬁnding with participants who
are more avid literary readers.
The stimulus in this experiment was a plot-based mystery
story, to a large extent based on a chronological ordering of
actions and events, so that the occurrence of an event in the story
content – the “when in the story” – is often closely matched to
the spatial location of the text passage in the book – the “where
in the text.” While it is not implausible that similar results can be
found by using other types of linear, chronologically structured
texts (e.g., narratively presented historical accounts in textbooks),
replications of the present study are needed, using diﬀerent types
and genres of texts (e.g., literary texts that are less plot-based;
expository texts with low degree of narrativity). It may be that
the ergonomic and visual aﬀordances of diﬀerent screen media
may diﬀerently aﬀect cognitive aspects of reading, depending on a
number of variables relating to text (e.g., literary vs. non-literary;
degree of narrativity; length; genre; structure/layout; complexity)
as well as reader characteristics (e.g., medium/technology
expertise and preference). The increasing popularity of the Bring-
Your-Own-Device solution (see, e.g., Song, 2014) is testimony to
the fact that for instance device ownership may be a signiﬁcant
factor in this equation.
Future research should also address the aﬀective and
emotional aspects of reading. Beyond applying an adapted
version of Busselle and Bilandzic’s (2009) Narrative Engagement
Scale, we did not include any measures of emotional and aﬀective
aspects. Given that the stimulus text is a mystery story by an
established author, this may seem an unfortunate omission.
Moreover, applied post hoc, rating scales are also liable to
distortion and can more accurately be said to measure readers’
verbalized memory of what they may have felt at the time of
reading (see e.g., Jacobs, 2016a,b). Ideally, oﬄine measures
of emotional aspects of reading should be complemented
by online measures that are less prone to such distortions.
Speciﬁcally, ratings and other verbal responses could be
fruitfully complemented with online, indirect, behavioral
measures such as eye tracking or electrodermal activity, in
order to shed more light on the role of aﬀective and emotional
processes in perhaps especially long-form, literary reading.
The development of sophisticated interdisciplinary and multi-
methodological frameworks such as the Neurocognitive Poetics
Model (Jacobs, 2015) is especially promising in this respect,
applying a combination of measures at neural, behavioral and
phenomenological levels in the study of literary – poetic as well
as prose – textual material (see also Jacobs and Willems, 2018).
Overall, we know too little about the ways in which digitization
may aﬀect emotional and motivational aspects of reading, and
empirical research addressing such questions is much needed
(see Kaakinen et al., 2018). As noted by Willems and Jacobs
(2016), using literary texts as stimuli is, in this regard, a rich and
largely untapped potential.
Limitations as the above notwithstanding, it seems safe
to conclude that digitization brings with it the need to
update existing models of reading in general, and of reading
comprehension, in particular. Importantly, models should be
elaborated and reﬁned to account for the role of various features
of media (e.g., print books, laptops, tablets, and e-readers)
and their substrates (e.g., paper, electronic ink screens, LCD
screens) on the reading of various types of texts, for diﬀerent
purposes. Mangen and van der Weel (2016) propose such
an integrative, transdisciplinary model, accounting for the
psychological, ergonomic, technological, social, cultural and
evolutionary aspects of reading and how these are being aﬀected
by digitization. An exploratory model, it is intended to point
to blanks in our knowledge of the diﬀerences between paper
and screen reading, hence pointing out directions for future
empirical research. The ﬁndings of the present experiment
indicate that one salient textual parameter to pursue in future
research comparing paper and screen reading, is text length and
the ways in which a text may prompt re-reading, at various levels
and for various reasons.
Although it should be considered largely exploratory, the
study adds to a growing body of evidence indicating that
paper and screen reading may diﬀer also in cases of linear,
narrative reading where there are no hyperlinks to click on
or multimedia content to process. Moreover, it illustrates the
value of studying parameters not commonly addressed in reading
research, such as haptic and tactile feedback. In the process
toward more ecologically valid experiments in reading research,
the study also contributes valuable insights into aspects of
reading comprehension when the text is substantially longer than
what is typical in empirical reading research of any disciplinary
AM and J-LV conceived and designed the experiments. GO and
J-LV performed the experiments. J-LV analyzed the data. AM and
J-LV wrote the manuscript.
Research supported by grants ANR-16-CONV-0002 (ILCB),
ANR-11-LABX-0036 (BLRI) and the Excellence Initiative of Aix-
Marseille University (A∗MIDEX).
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Conﬂict of Interest Statement: The authors declare that the research was
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be construed as a potential conﬂict of interest.
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