Is the internet making us stupid?
That’s the question researchers from Wellington’s Victoria University asked in a study on people’s reading behaviour.
And the answer is: yes.
We might have more access to information than ever before, but reading things online actually has a negative impact on people’s cognition.
Associate professor Val Hooper and masters student Channa Herath’s analysis of online and offline reading behaviour found that online reading generally does not have a positive impact on people’s cognition.
Concentration, comprehension, absorption and recall rates when engaging with online material were all much lower than traditional text.
This despite people getting through more material thanks to skim reading and scanning online material.
People also seem to become distracted when reading online due to emails, checking news, exploring hyperlinks and viewing video clips.
“People almost expect to be interrupted when they’re on their computers,” Dr Hooper said.
While many respondents said they had learnt to read faster and more selectively, they also admitted they were more likely to remember material they had read offline.
The study revealed it’s still common practice for people to print out material they think is important.
The data in Is Google Making Us Stupid? The Impact of the Internet on Reading Behaviour suggests people still read in a linear, print-based fashion even though we receive information in a different structure.
Dr Hooper thinks it will take at least a generation for changes to the way people are taught how to read.
“If you think about how we’re training our children to read, they’re being trained by those who were trained in the linear fashion,” she said.
Long chunks of text no longer appeal to students, Dr Hooper said.