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Cognitive map or medium materiality? Reading on paper and screen

Article  in  Computers in Human Behavior · February 2017

DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.10.014


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Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94

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Computers in Human Behavior

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Full length article

Cognitive map or medium materiality? Reading on paper and screen

Jinghui Hou a, *, Justin Rashid b, Kwan Min Lee c
School of Communication, Florida State University, C3115 University Center, Tallahassee, FL, 32306, United States
Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA, 90089, United States
Department of Interaction Science, Sungkyunkwan University, Sungkyunkwan-Ro, Jongno-Gu, Seoul, 110-745, South Korea

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The present study examined two common mechanisms that are used to explain why reading on an
Received 21 August 2016 electronic screen versus paper result in different reading outcomes: The Cognitive Map Mechanism and
Received in revised form the Medium Materiality Mechanism. A laboratory experiment (N ¼ 45), was conducted using a three-
16 October 2016
group comparison design (paper book vs. digital equivalent vs. digital disrupted view). Our hypotheses
Accepted 17 October 2016
Available online 29 October 2016
that were based on the cognitive map mechanism were largely supported. On the other hand, our hy-
potheses following the medium materiality mechanism were not sufficiently evidenced. Specifically, our
results showed that the paper book was similar to its digital equivalent, and both were better than the
Cognitive map
digital disrupted view in terms of reading comprehension, feelings of fatigue, and psychological im-
Medium materiality mersion. The findings implied that it is not the materiality of the presentation medium that influences
Comprehension reading outcomes, rather it is the extent to which the text presentation facilitates, or impedes, the
Fatigue reader's ability to construct a cognitive map that influences the reading process. Implications for future
Immersion research and practice are discussed.
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction paper might result in different reading outcomes center on two

mechanisms. The first mechanism is concerned with the psycho-
Since the 1980s, scholars in many fields e including psychology, logical aspects of reading behavior. It contends that screens make it
media studies, computer engineering, and information science and difficult for readers to construct an effective cognitive map, or a
library e have published extensive studies investigating one spatial representation, of the text (Li, Chen, & Yang, 2013; Payne &
question: How does reading on screens differ from reading papers? Reader, 2006). This weak efficiency for constructing cognitive
To date, this fundamental research question remains partially maps, in turn, impairs navigational performance (i.e., searching for
addressed at best. By the early 1990s, most studies concluded that or locating a piece of textual information), reading speed, content
people read slower, less accurately, and less comprehensively on recall, and reading comprehension (Li et al., 2013; Payne & Reader,
screens than from papers (e.g., Gould & Grischkowsky, 1984; Muter, 2006). The second mechanism focuses on the material character-
Latremouille, Treurniet, & Beam, 1982; Smedshammar, Frenckner, istics of the presentation medium (screen or paper), and it suggests
Nordquist, & Romberger, 1989; Wright & Lickorish, 1983). that the materiality of the reading medium influences text pro-
Research published since then, on the contrary, has produced cessing (Mangen & Schilhab, 2012; Mangen, 2008). Text on paper is
mixed results. Some studies have confirmed previous conclusions touchable and tangible, whereas text on screens is intangible,
(Kim & Kim, 2013; Kurniawan & Zaphiris, 2001), while many more mediated, and detached from the physical support of the reading
have found few significant differences in reading speed, accuracy of medium. The haptic interactions with paper text afford readers
recall, or comprehension between paper and screen (Margolin, richer sensorimotor engagement with the text compared to screen
Driscoll, Toland, & Kegler, 2013; Kretzschmar et al., 2013; Noyes text, which enhances information encoding and comprehension.
& Garland, 2003). Research comparing reading on paper versus screens has still
Attempts to explain the reasons why reading on a screen versus shown inconsistent findings, partly because the majority of the
studies have not employed a rigorously controlled design to isolate
the effects of the two mechanisms. Due to the lack of controlled
* Corresponding author. designs, one mechanism appeared to be a confounding factor for
E-mail addresses: (J. Hou), (J. Rashid),
the other. The main goal of the present study is to disentangle the (K.M. Lee).
0747-5632/© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94 85

effects of the two mechanisms. Utilizing a uniquely designed et al., 2013; Morineau et al., 2005).
experiment stimulus, this study is among the first to compare and In contrast to paper books, screens, in general, weaken the
test the two mechanisms in the area. spatial cues about a reader's location in a text (Dillon, 1992; O'Hara
& Sellen, 1997; Liesaputra & Witten, 2012; McDonald & Stevenson,
2. Literature review 1998), and they impede the reader in forming an effective cognitive
map (Jabr, 2013; Li et al., 2013). When the cognitive map is not
2.1. The cognitive map mechanism effectively constructed, a reader employs greater cognitive re-
sources to navigate texts and to retain information, which leaves
Researchers believed that human minds automatically treat the reader less cognitive capacity for information recall and
written texts as if they were physical objects (Jabr, 2013; Wolf, comprehension (Li et al., 2013). For example, empirical studies on
2007). Evolutionary psychologists proposed that the human brain hypertext reading have provided evidence for the cognitive map
is an evolved organ with a range of functionally distinct mecha- mechanism. Hypertext is a type of electronic text that connects
nisms, or “modules,” designed to guide specific adaptive behaviors, (“hyperlinks”) to other texts. Hypertexts have been shown to
such as hunting for food, escaping danger, and selecting a mate impede users in forming cognitive maps of the complexly struc-
(Chomsky, 1980; Sherry & Schacter, 1987; Cosmides & Tooby, 1992, tured texts, create disorientation (Payne & Reader, 2006; Simpson
1994). The behavior of reading is a relatively recent human in- & McKnight, 1990) and cognitive overload in readers (Conklin,
vention in evolutionary history. There is no direct module specif- 1987; Stanton, Correia, & Dias, 2000), and impair reading
ically dedicated to this new skill (Wolf, 2007). Instead, reading comprehension performance (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2007). Scholars
relies on an array of existing modules, such as vision, speech, motor have contended that the “disorientation” problem associated with
coordination, and visual object recognition (Jabr, 2013; Nakamura reading hypertext is a consequence of readers failing to construct
et al., 2012). Visual object recognition is the ability to rapidly an effective cognitive map of the flexibly structured hypertexts
detect and classify objects despite the substantial variation in (Elm & Woods, 1985; Leventhal, Teasley, Instone, Rohlman, &
appearance that each object produces on our eyes (DiCarlo, Farhat, 1993; Payne & Reader, 2006; Simpson & McKnight, 1990).
Zoccolan, & Rust, 2012). Our ability to distinguish an apple from Such a disorientation problem can be alleviated by providing hy-
an orange or to recognize the words on this page depends on this pertext readers an explicit visual structure map, which aids readers
objective recognition module (DiCarlo et al., 2012). Recent fMRI in cognitive map formation (e.g., Li et al., 2013).
studies have also provided evidence that the brain circuit special- In summary, the cognitive map mechanism argues that the
ized for visual object recognition is activated during reading (e.g., extent to which a text presentation facilitates or attenuates the
Nakamura et al., 2012). construction of a cognitive map of its structure is the key factor that
Furthermore, human brains not only treat a text as a tangible influences navigational performance (Li et al., 2013; Simpson &
part of the physical world, but also perceive a text within its McKnight, 1990), content retention (Chun & Jiang, 1998;
structure as a physical landscape. When the human brain gathers Morineau et al., 2005), and comprehension (Li et al., 2013;
visual information about an object, it also gathers information Morineau et al., 2005). A text presentation supporting the forma-
about its surroundings, and associates the two (Jabr, 2013; Li et al., tion of a mental map of the text structure, such as a text on a paper,
2013). In a similar manner to how people construct a mental map of bolsters recall and comprehension performance, while a text pre-
a physical environment (e.g., a desk in the center of an office facing sentation with weak efficacy for forming a mental map, such as text
the door), readers form a “cognitive map” of the physical location of on a screen, impairs such performance.
a text and its spatial relationship to the page as a whole (Jabr, 2013;
Li et al., 2013; Payne & Reader, 2006; Waller, 1985). For example, 2.2. The medium materiality mechanism
both scholarly evidence and anecdotal experience testify that when
people try to locate a particular piece of information they have read, Another primary mechanism to explain the potential differences
they often are able to recall where in the text it appeared, such as a between reading on paper versus on a screen is concerned with the
limerick on the top of a right-hand page (Rothkopf, 1971). Thus, material characteristics of the presentation medium. Initially,
during the reading process, people acquire knowledge of a docu- scholars (Belmore, 1985; Bevan, 1981; Gould & Grischkowsky, 1986;
ment's structure, as well as the contents of the document (Payne & Gould et al., 1987; Gray, 1991; Noyes & Garland, 2003; Ziefle, 1998)
Reader, 2006). explained the differences in reading speed and comprehension in
It is generally agreed that paper books make it easier for readers the context of the physical novelties and constraints inherent in the
to form a coherent cognitive map of the text than onscreen texts use of a screen (e.g., screen contrast, optical strain, backlighting and
(Jabr, 2013). Paper books have fixed layouts. A single page of a paper flickering, display quality, and page manipulation). Reading on a
book presents a reader with four corners and a frame e two long screen involves both processing the reading text and handling the
and two short borders e with which to orient oneself. A reader can reading medium. Thus, a screen might impose additional cognitive
see where a piece of textual information is in relation to the page load to control the reading medium, leaving less cognitive capacity
corners and borders. One can also sense the relative spatial rela- to deal with the text itself (Wastlund, Reinikka, Norlander, &
tionship between texts within a page (Hansen & Haas, 1988; Archer, 2005; Mayes, Sims, & Koonce, 2001). In contrast, a paper
Morineau, Blanche, Tobin, & Gue guen, 2005; Li et al., 2013). The book is a physically and functionally unitary object. The interaction
fixed layout of a paper book provides a reader with cues to the with paper books is so natural, intuitive, and immediate that
structure of a text, thus facilitating the construction of cognitive readers cease to cognitively process it; therefore, it has lower
maps of the text. In other words, the fixed layout conveys structure cognitive demands.
information that a reader is able to use in forming a cognitive map However, it should be noted that such discrepancies were
of the document. With a coherent mental map in mind, a reader has observed primarily by early work that compared paper text to text
better knowledge of a text's structure, and is more unconsciously on the first generation of video display terminals (VDTs) (Dillon,
aware of one's place in the document (Crestani & Ntioudis, 2001). McKnight, & Richardson, 1988). It is possible that some of these
Such spatial knowledge helps a reader to locate text one has seen discrepancies have reduced due to the remarkable advances in
before (Liesaputra & Witten, 2012), and support more effective screen technology (Margolin et al., 2013). For instance, previous
retention and comprehension of the content (Chun & Jiang, 1998; Li studies reported increased visual fatigue and eyestrain when
86 J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94

reading from screens as opposed to paper (Cushman, 1986; Pearce, Furthermore, the sensorimotor experience of the reading me-
1984). As a result, screen-based reading is more physically tiring dium's materiality influences cognitive processing of the text con-
and mentally taxing than reading paper. The higher demand of tent. According to the multi-sensory learning theory (Mercer &
physical and cognitive effort inhibits reading comprehension. Mercer, 1993; Murphy, 1997; Shams & Seitz, 2008), people learn
However, the improvements in technology e from cathode ray tube best when information is presented across multiple sensory mo-
(CRT) terminals, through liquid crystal displays (LCDs), to the latest dalities. Human beings engage different parts of the brain to encode
e-paper technology (also known as “e-ink”) e have significantly the text that they see, hear, or touch (Shams & Seitz, 2008). Thus,
reduced visual fatigue and feelings of discomfort (Lin, Lin, Hwang, the use of hands in the reading process can facilitate information
Jeng, & Liao, 2008). Some recent experiments showed that e-pa- encoding. The richer the sensorimotor engagement that a reader
per, a screen technology that emulates the appearance of ordinary experiences with a text, the greater the opportunities for multi-
ink on paper, is equivalent to printed paper in terms of optics sensory information encoding and for the text to be compre-
(Benedetto, Drai-Zerbib, Pedrotti, Tissier, & Baccino, 2013), and can hended. This means that people use a sense of touch and motor
even potentially improve reading comprehension (cf. Conlon & skills to supplement the visual processing of reading. The materi-
Sanders, 2011; Withers, 2013). Therefore, the advancement of ality of paper text is touchable and tangible, which affords a richer
screen technology can be a potential reason for the inconsistency in sensorimotor experience, and bolsters information encoding and
the findings between early work and more recent studies. The first content comprehension. In contrast, screen text is intangible and
generation of video screens are very different from the digital detached or mediated. This immateriality degrades sensorimotor
screens found on today's computers. Some technological con- engagement with the text and attenuates content recall and
straints of the era in which early research was taking place might comprehension. In this regard, it is not the technological con-
have been substantially improved to the extent that they may no straints of a screen that demand extra cognitive load or interfere
longer produce significant discrepancies in terms of reading speed, with the reading process because “no matter how print-like the
comprehension, fatigue, and subject preference (e.g., Green, Perera, quality of the … screen, the text as such remains digital and hence
Dance, & Myers, 2010; Huang, 2006; Margolin et al., 2013; Tanner, detached from the physical support.” (Mangen, 2008, p. 416).
2014). In sum, different reading media have different material char-
Our study focuses on another emerging theme of research, acteristics that afford different sensorimotor experiences, which
which also examines the materiality of the reading medium, but influences the cognitive processing of the reading text. However,
from a different angle (Mangen & Kuiken, 2014; Mangen & while scholars have maintained the importance of the materiality
Schilhab, 2012; Mangen, 2008). Reading can be considered as an of the reading media (Mackey, 2007; Mangen, 2008; Merchant,
interaction between a human and a medium, be it a paper book or a 2007; Morineau et al., 2005), they appealed that “issues of mate-
screen. This interaction with a reading medium engages a variety of riality have been largely neglected in reading research overall.”
sensorimotor experiences. Many people prefer to read a paper book (Mangen, 2008, p. 405). As Morineau et al. pointed out, “interaction
because it has weight, renders the feel of riffling and flipping the with the physical support of the e-book during encoding is very
pages, offers the sound of sheets crinkling, while some also love the different than with a classical paper book, but we know of no
smell of the paper and the touch of the artwork. The registering of experimental work on this matter.” (Morineau et al., 2005, p. 336).
touch and sight, and even of smell and hearing, manifest that Our study aims to contribute to this line of research to examine the
content delivery is not a paper book's only affordance. An afford- potential impact of (im)materiality on text processing. In particular,
ance is a property of an object that determines how the object can we investigate how screen text being digital, and hence detached
be used (Gibson, 1977, 1979; Norman, 2002). For instance, Mangen, from physical support, might influence different reading outcomes.
Walgermo, and Brønnick, 2013; Mangen, 2008; Mangen & Schilhab,
2012 have produced a considerable amount of work to investigate 2.3. A direct test of the two mechanisms
the role of haptics e the sense of touch and movement of fingers
and hands e in the reading process. In their view, reading is an Research findings from the 1990s to the present have been
activity that involves the use of human hands and fingers, in inconclusive, but tended to imply that reading from screens affords
addition to eyes and brains. Meanwhile, readers' haptic interaction less comprehension and is slower than reading from printed ma-
with text is afforded by the physical support of the reading me- terials. For example, Mangen and colleagues (Mangen et al., 2013)
dium. For example, people use hands and fingers to touch and turn devised an experiment that required participants to answer
pages of a paper book when they read. This differs from the way comprehension questions after reading a four-page text. Half of the
people use hands to interact with screens e the way people click participants read from an unpaginated PDF file on a 15-inch LCD
and scroll, or handle touchscreens. The fundamental difference of monitor and were able to scroll up and down the pages, while the
the haptic interaction with paper versus a screen might lead people other half read the same text from printed paper. The participants
to experience a text differently (Mangen, 2008; Mangen & Schilhab, who read the printed text performed significantly better on the
2012). When reading a paper book, one can touch the material comprehension test than those who read the text on the screen. A
substrate of the text, and feel the paper and ink with one's fingers large body of research employed a similar study design (e.g.,
and hands. The text is inseparable from the material form e the Mangen & Kuiken, 2014; Kerr & Symons, 2006; Mayes et al., 2001;
paper. When reading texts on a screen, the readers might feel that Wastlund et al., 2005), and reached a similar conclusion: Presen-
their haptic interaction with the text is a mediated experience or tation medium does influence reading performance. However, a
that it takes place at a distance from the actual text. The text is crucial problem is that these studies were not controlled to pre-
detached from the physical medium that delivers it because the cisely test the effect of the presentation medium (Noyes & Garland,
actual text is only temporarily displayed on the screen and not built 2003). In Mangen et al.'s (2013) study, they attempted to ensure
into the device's hardware; the same screen can display a multitude that the texts presented on the LCD and the paper were as identical
of content with the click of a button. Thus, where paper text is as possible, and so they used a PDF version of the same text as the
tangible and touchable, text on a screen is intangible and detached one on paper. However, one important factor that was not
or mediated (Mangen, 2008; Mangen & Schilhab, 2012). Hence, the controlled for was the extent to which the text presentation on the
materiality of text on paper and that of text on a screen differ in a two media supports or hinders the construction of a cognitive map
fundamental way. of the text. We argue that this factor is a key confounding variable
J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94 87

that influences the reading process according to the cognitive map two media in terms of reading times (Askwall, 1985; Cushman,
mechanism. In the study (Mangen et al., 2013), participants in the 1986; Holzinger et al., 2011; Muter & Maurutto, 1991; Noyes &
screen condition were able to scroll up and down the pages. Garland, 2003; Zambarbieri & Carniglia, 2012). Some researchers
Scrolling is known to impede a reader's ability to form an effective found that readers tend to adjust their reading rate to ensure that
mental map of the text (Eklundh, 1992; Piolat, Roussey, & Thunin, they understand the meaning of the text materials (Kerr & Symons,
1997). When scrolling, readers typically manipulate the text up or 2006; Mills & Weldon, 1987). For example, Kerr and Symons (2006)
down line by line, thus they are transited to entirely new layouts assessed children's reading rates and comprehension on paper
from moment to moment. The spatial flexibility and instability of versus computers with a scrolling text presentation and they found
the text presentation makes it hard for readers to reconstruct the that children read slower on computers than on paper. However,
physical layout of the text, which interrupts mental map formation. the authors contended that when given sufficient time, children
On the other hand, the fixity of the text in the paper condition could achieve the same comprehension level between paper and
supports the construction of a mental map of the text's structure. computer. If this proposition is correct, we should see no significant
Therefore, the cognitive map mechanism could potentially explain difference in comprehension but a significant difference in reading
the significantly poorer comprehension for text presented on the speed between the two media. An early study (Moore & Zabrucky,
screens than on paper. Naturally, the medium materiality mecha- 1995) observed that while readers' self-judged comprehension did
nism could also be a valid explanation because the immateriality of not differ in computer versus paper reading, they read significantly
the screen text could account for the observed difference in the slower on computers. To better understand the possible discrep-
study. In this regard, the medium itself would influence reading ancies in comprehension, reading speed should be taken into ac-
comprehension. count (Kerr & Symons, 2006; Mills & Weldon, 1987). Therefore, our
The problem is that, given the design of the study, it was study assesses reading speed and anticipates that:
impossible to rigorously test whether the observed discrepancies in
H2a. The cognitive map mechanism would have a main effect on
comprehension between the paper and screen conditions were an
reading speed, such that individuals would read slower when
effect of the medium materiality mechanism, the cognitive map
exposed to a text that has weak efficacy for forming a cognitive
mechanism, or both. Therefore, the main goal of the present study
is to disentangle the effects of these two mechanisms. To the best of
our knowledge, the current study is the first to directly compare H2b. The medium materiality mechanism would have a main
and test the two mechanisms through a uniquely designed exper- effect on reading speed, such that individuals would read slower
iment stimulus. when reading from an electronic screen than from paper.

2.3.1. Reading comprehension

The cognitive map mechanism implies that it is not the pre- 2.3.3. Fatigue
sentation medium per se that affects reading comprehension, but The American Optometric Association (2015) officially recog-
rather the key factor is whether the text presentation facilitates or nizes computer vision syndrome, where common symptoms
hampers readers to produce a cognitive map of the structure of the include eyestrain, headaches, dry eyes, plus neck and shoulder pain
text. As Kerr and Symons (2006) stated, “Difficulties in reading from that result from digital screen use. The cognitive map mechanism
computers may be due to disrupted mental maps of the text, which explains fatigue, in terms of the extra load imposed on cognitive
may be reflected in poorer understanding and ultimately poorer processing systems, by becoming disoriented due to difficulties in
recall of presented material.” (p. 5). Research has demonstrated forming a mental map of a text. For instance, reading hypertext
that the lack of fixity and spatiotemporal markers when reading on (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2007), a text type known to hinder cognitive
screens can impede reading comprehension (Cataldo & Oakhill, map construction, demanded more cognitive resources than
2000; Kerr & Symons, 2006; Le Bigot, Passerault, & Olive, 2009; reading a conventional linear-formatted text. This finding was
Piolat et al., 1997; Wastlund, 2007). On the other hand, advocates reinforced by an electroencephalographic (EEG) study, which
of the medium materiality mechanism conceive reading as a observed increased pupil dilation and desynchronization of oscil-
multisensory interaction with the reading medium. In particular, latory activity when reading hypertext; both measures indicated
the haptic interactions with a paper text afford readers richer extra cognitive load employed to process a text (Scharinger,
sensorimotor engagement with the text, which enhances infor- Kammerer, & Gerjets, 2015). Pynte, Kennedy, and Ducrot (2004)
mation encoding, compared to a screen text. Thus, the visual and observed that unfamiliar or complex text drew readers' eyes and
haptic coordination may offload the visual sensory processing, interrupted moment-to-moment information processing. Inter-
leaving more cognitive capacity for comprehension (Mangen & rupting eye movements prevent a reader from choosing the next
Schilhab, 2012; Mangen, 2008). Therefore, we expect that: lexical fixation point (Zhang, Yan, Kendrick, & Li, 2012), and
increased burdening to coordinate the eyes with the text could
H1a. The cognitive map mechanism would have a main effect on increase eye fatigue (Mayes et al., 2001). When reading a text that
reading comprehension, such that individuals would display poorer hinders mental map construction, readers' eyes may grow fatigued
comprehension performance when exposed to a text that has weak from the constantly shifting layouts. Each time readers transit to a
efficacy for forming a cognitive map. new layout (e.g., each scroll to reveal a new line), their eyes need to
H1b. The medium materiality mechanism would have a main adjust, which results in higher visual burdening and higher mental
effect on reading comprehension, such that individuals would and physical resource exertion.
display poorer comprehension performance when reading from an The medium materiality mechanism also suggests that reading
electronic screen than from paper. onscreen text exhausts mental resources more quickly than reading
paper text, making onscreen text more fatiguing. Depending on
whether visual or haptic modalities are employed, information
2.3.2. Reading speed processing occurs in different areas of the working memory system,
Early work showed that people read slower on a screen than on with both areas having a limited capacity (Mayer, Heiser, & Lonn,
a paper by as much as 20e30 percent (see review by Dillon, 1992). 2001). When reading paper text, the haptic modality might off-
Relatively recent studies reported insignificant differences between load some cognitive demands onto the visual modality, thereby
88 J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94

alleviating visual fatigue (Mangen & Schilhab, 2012). Accordingly, from expository text in that the former aims to tell a story while the
we expect that: latter conveys and explains facts and information. While previous
research (Margolin et al., 2013) found no significant differences
H3a. The cognitive map mechanism would have a main effect on
between reading narrative or expository texts on screens versus
fatigue, such that individuals would experience increased fatigue
paper, we chose to study comic books because they can quickly
when exposed to text that has a weak efficacy for forming a
engross readers, making them suitable to investigate readers'
cognitive map.
experience of immersion. Moreover, leisure-reading texts, such as
H3b. The medium materiality mechanism would have a main bestsellers, comics, and magazines represent the most popular
effect on fatigue, such that individuals would experience increased genre on tablets and e-books (Thayer et al., 2011). As past electronic
fatigue when reading from an electronic screen than from paper. reading research has predominately focused on academic and
professional related reading (e.g., textbooks), many scholars sug-
gested that reading for entertainment purposes is still an under-
2.3.4. Immersion studied area in need of attention (e.g., Chen, Xiao, Fan, & O'Brien-
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of reading is to Strain, 2011; Liesaputra & Witten, 2012).
become immersed in the story worlds constructed by narrative In particular, two issues of Marvel Comics' Civil War (2006) se-
texts. Immersion refers to a sense of engagement or an experience ries were used as the reading material, each issue being approxi-
of losing oneself in an environment (Hou, Nam, Peng, & Lee, 2012; mately 30 pages long. This series was chosen because it contains
Witmer & Singer, 1998). It entails a complete focus on the envi- some of the most well-known comic book characters (e.g., Iron
ronment and an appealing engrossment free from distractions (Hou Man, Captain America, Spider-Man), of whom most, if not all, of the
et al., 2012). Empirical studies examining the effect of either participants would have heard. This made the material topical and
mechanism (cognitive map or medium materiality) on readers' of interest. In addition, the series was a short-lived one-off special,
immersion experience has been limited. In Mangen and Kuiken’s which limited the possibility that participants were already familiar
(2014) study, paper readers who read a story reported higher on with the story.
immersion measures than Apple iPad readers. Another study
(Mangen, Robinet, Olivier, & Velay, 2014) had participants read a 3.2. Experiment design & apparatus
28-page mystery story and place 14 events of the story in order. The
results showed that book readers were significantly better at This experiment employed a three-group between-subject
remembering the order of events than Amazon Kindle readers. comparison design (paper vs. digital equivalent vs. digital disrupted
Although this study did not measure immersion directly, the ability view). The basic activities in the experiment involved reading a
of participants to reconstruct the plot may imply their engagement comic and completing questionnaires afterwards. In the first con-
level with a narrative text. dition, a softcover paper color version of the comic book was used,
Researchers contended that for readers to become “lost” in a with dimensions of 8.4  5.8  0.4 inches (see Fig. 1). In both the
book, the medium on which the text is displayed should be as less second and the third conditions, the Apple's iPad tablet was used as
interrupting as possible (Mangen & Kuiken, 2014; Nell, 1988). the reading medium, with dimensions of 9.6  7.5  0.5 inches. The
Beyond the medium, a neural study (Pynte et al., 2004) showed that iPad's LCD screen display was 7.6  5.8 inches wide, or diagonal 9.7
reading an interrupting text, such as one with typographic errors, inches (see Fig. 2).
interfered with moment-to-moment information processing and In the digital equivalent condition, the full comic page was
compromised reading concentration. A text presentation that im- displayed on the 9.7-inch tablet screen, which was slightly smaller
pedes the construction of a cognitive map could also be considered than, but close to, the size of the printed book in the first condition.
interrupting, which might interfere in text processing and hurt The full-page layout is identical to that of the paper book, where
readers' immersion in the narrative world. Some scholars have participants read a full-page at a time without needing to scroll
argued that the very immateriality of screen text prevents readers within a page (see Fig. 3). Apple's iPad is considered ideal for
from immersing themselves in reading (Baron, 2012; Mangen, graphic content due to its technical advancement in displaying
2008). Mangen and Kuiken (2014) argued that the immersion bright and vibrant colors, thus makes the graphic quality on screen
discrepancy resulted from the different sensorimotor and ergo- comparable to that of the paper book. Moreover, this touchscreen
nomic affordances of a tablet screen and paper because the intan- tablet employed a swipe-through operation to turn (digital) pages
gibility of the screen text can lead people to read in a shallower way in a way that simulates the act of turning physical pages. Such
(Mangen, 2008). Accordingly, we postulate that: navigation methods offer a more natural feel than button (click)
navigation (Liesaputra & Witten, 2012). The comics were down-
H4a. The cognitive map mechanism would have a main effect on
loaded and installed on the devices before the experiment started
immersion, such that individuals would experience less immersion
so that any possible delays in page loading were minimized,
when exposed to text that has a weak efficacy for forming a
resembling the immediate access characteristic of paper books.
cognitive map.
Participants were also instructed to read in the portrait orientation.
H4b. The medium materiality mechanism would have a main In sum, the size, layout, color, navigation method, and display of the
effect on immersion, such that individuals would experience less comic book in the digital equivalent condition closely resembled its
immersion when reading from an electronic screen than from print counterpart. As such, our design of the digital equivalent
paper. condition controlled for the extent to which the text supports or
impedes readers' ability to construct a mental map of the text. The
paper book and the digital equivalent conditions were kept as
3. Method identical as possible except that the text on the paper book was
tangible, whereas the text in the digital equivalent condition was
3.1. Reading materials digital, intangible, and hence detached from the physical support.
In the digital disrupted view condition, a special design was
The reading material chosen for the present experiment was a used to break up the page structure of the comic. Participants in this
comic book. Comic books are a type of narrative text, which differs condition went panel-by-panel of a page instead of page-to-page.
J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94 89

Fig. 1. The first condition - The softcover copy of Marvel Comics' Civil War (2006) series.

Fig. 2. An Apple iPad tablet installed with Marvel Comics' Application.

90 J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94

Fig. 3. The second condition e digital equivalent e displayed one full page of the comic.

Specifically, this design zoomed in to show one comic panel at a balanced across the conditions. All participants had prior experi-
time then moved to the next panel on the page (see Fig. 4) through ence with comic reading; they were also reasonably familiar with
the same swipe-through operation as the second condition. Par- the Apple iPad, as all students had access to iPad devices in the
ticipants thus read each panel on its own without being able to school's reading room.
view the full page and its layout or its overall structure. The comics Participants were invited to a quite reading room between 9AM
were pre-installed and participants were required to read in the and 5PM. The purpose of choosing this experimental environment
portrait orientation. The purpose of this special design was to was to provide a natural setting while minimizing possible dis-
destruct the page layout to make it difficult for participants to get a tractions. After being greeted, the participants were told the
sense of the structure of the text and thus impede them from objective of the study was to read two issues of a comic book series.
forming an effective cognitive map. As each panel was cut out of the Depending on their randomly assigned reading condition, partici-
page and seen on its own, its spatial relationships with the whole pants were given a softcover comic book, an Apple iPad with the
page and neighboring panels were disrupted (Liesaputra & Witten, comic pre-installed in full-page digital format, or an Apple iPad
2012). Therefore, this design was specially employed in this with the comic pre-installed in the disrupted view mode.
experiment to examine the effects of the cognitive map The participants were instructed to read the comic as they
mechanism. normally would, with the knowledge that they would be asked to
answer some questions afterwards. It was recorded how long each
participant took to finish reading the two issues. However, to
3.3. Participants and procedure minimize any influence of time pressure, the participants were not
made aware that they were being timed. After reading the comic,
A total of 45 undergraduate students were recruited from a the participants were given a paper-and-pencil questionnaire
communication school (n ¼ 34 female, n ¼ 11 male), in exchange assessing reading comprehension, and a separate paper-and-pencil
for course credits. Participants ranged from 18 to 34 years of age questionnaire assessing fatigue and immersion. Finally, partici-
with a mean age of 20.98 (SD ¼ 2.92). They were randomly assigned pants were debriefed and thanked for their time.
to one of the three reading conditions with gender approximately
J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94 91

Fig. 4. The third condition e digital disrupted view - zoomed in on each individual panel.

3.4. Measures M ¼ 8.33, SD ¼ 1.69, Cronbach's alpha ¼ 0.82.

Comprehension. Participants were asked 14 comprehension 4. Results

questions based on the comic they had read. One question was
open-ended; the rest were multiple-choice. The maximum possible 4.1. Data analysis
score on comprehension was 17. On average, participants scored
78.58% of the questions right; the number of correct answers Our analyses comprised three steps. First, a normality test was
ranged from 6 to 17, M ¼ 13.38, SD ¼ 2.70. conducted on each measure. It showed that time (i.e., reading
Time. The length of time it took participants to read both issues speed), and fatigue followed normal distributions; therefore, a one-
of the comic was measured and recorded. This variable reflected way ANOVA was conducted for these measures. Second, the
participants' reading speed; a lower score on this scale indicated a Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test, which is more appropriate for small
higher reading speed. Participants finished the reading within sample sizes (n < 50), showed that comprehension and immersion
13e30 min, M ¼ 22.13, SD ¼ 3.85. significantly deviated from a normal distribution (significant values
Fatigue. Fatigue was measured with the following three ques- were less than 0.05). As such, a non-parametric test e the Kruskal-
tions: “How comfortable did you feel whilst reading the comic Wallis ANOVA test e was used to analyze the data. Third, post-hoc
book?” which participants answered from Very uncomfortable (1) pairwise comparison tests were applied to determine specifically
to Very comfortable (10); “What level of eye fatigue did you which groups differed from which other groups. Table 1 presents
experience?” and “What experience or sense of headaches did you descriptive statistics for the variables in the three conditions.
have?” which participants answered on a scale from Not at all (1) to
Extreme (10) (reverse-coded). A higher score on this scale indicated 4.2. Primary results
less fatigue when reading the comics, M ¼ 7.42, SD ¼ 1.49, Cron-
bach's alpha ¼ 0.73. A Kruskal-Wallis test was conducted on comprehension. The
Immersion. Immersion was an index of the following two three-group comparison was not significant. A further two-group
statements ranging from Not at all (1) to Very much (10): “When I comparison using the Mann-Whitney U test showed that partici-
read the comic book, I got really immersed in it,” and “When I read pants performed significantly better on the comprehension ques-
the comic book, I just could not focus on the story (reverse coded),” tions in the paper book condition than in the digital disrupted view
92 J. Hou et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 67 (2017) 84e94

Table 1
Descriptive statistics of study variables by condition.

Print Book (n ¼ 15) Digital Equivalent (n ¼ 15) Digital Disrupted View (n ¼ 15)

M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)

Comprehension 14.20 (1.57) 13.87 (2.42) 12.07 (3.41)

Time (min) 21.20 (4.07) 21.87 (4.36) 23.33 (2.90)
Fatigue 7.61 (1.52) 8.14 (0.90) 6.51 (1.55)
Immersion 9.00 (0.79) 8.75 (1.44) 7.23 (2.09)

condition, z ¼ 1.72, p ¼ 0.045. The results also showed a a “bird's-eye view” of each page. That is, the overall spatial structure
marginally significant finding that participants comprehended of the panels on the page was missing. Such weakened a structural
better in the digital equivalent condition than in the digital dis- relationship between the page and panels, and between the panels
rupted view condition, z ¼ 1.42, p ¼ 0.078. H1a was supported. themselves, impeded participants in forming an effective cognitive
A one-way ANOVA conducted to evaluate differences between map of the comic. This, in turn, impaired reading comprehension.
the three reading conditions on reading speed was not significant, Our findings are in line with existing literature suggesting that the
F(2, 42) ¼ 1.22, p ¼ 0.31, partial h2 ¼ 0.06. A further independent t- lack of an effective cognitive map of the text structure could hurt
test failed to detect significance pairwise differences. reading comprehension (Cataldo & Oakhill, 2000; Li et al., 2013;
A one-way ANOVA was conducted to evaluate differences be- Morineau et al., 2005; Payne & Reader, 2006). In addition, our re-
tween the three comic reading conditions on fatigue. Participants sults showed that the degraded comprehension performance in the
in the paper book and the digital equivalent conditions reported disrupted view condition was not a result of a difference in reading
feelings of fatigue to a lesser degree than those in the disrupted speed across conditions. While many experiments allocated a time
view condition, F(2, 42) ¼ 5.65, p ¼ 0.007, partial h2 ¼ 0.21. H3a was limit to reading (e.g., Wastlund et al., 2005), we allowed sufficient
supported. time for our participants to complete reading the comic. Our
A Kruskal-Wallis test showed that the difference between par- findings failed to show significant differences in reading speed
ticipants' self-reported immersion was significant, c2 (2, across three conditions.
N ¼ 45) ¼ 6.78, p ¼ 0.034. Further pairwise comparisons were Moreover, while existing research mainly focuses on how the
conducted using the Mann-Whitney U test. Participants reported a cognitive map mechanism affects navigational performance, con-
significantly higher level of immersion in the paper book condition tent recall (Li et al., 2013), and comprehension (Margolin et al.,
than in the digital disrupted view condition, z ¼ 2.36, p ¼ 0.009. 2013), our results implied that the influence of cognitive map
Immersion was also significantly higher in the digital equivalent construction might extend to readers' feelings of fatigue and their
condition than in the digital disrupted view condition, z ¼ 2.11, psychological immersion in a narrative text. Reading a text that
p ¼ 0.018. H4a was supported. hampers cognitive map construction is likely to require more effort
and is, therefore, more tiring because readers need to constantly
adjust the visual processing of the text to calibrate a structural
5. Discussion representation. This process places a heavy load on readers' eyes
and their mental and physical resources. Furthermore, to enable
The present study used a unique stimulus design in an attempt high level of immersion in a narrative story world, readers need to
to examine the potential impacts of two influential mechanisms on stay focused on the text and should not be occupied by other dis-
reading. A digital equivalent condition resembling the paper book tractions. If the cognitive map of the text is not effectively con-
was employed to test the impact of the medium materiality structed, readers are likely to become distracted by their
mechanism. A digital disrupted view condition that broke up the disorientation within the narrative. Future research could further
text structure of the reading material was devised to test the impact investigate how the cognitive map mechanism may influence other
of the cognitive map mechanism. Our results indicated that reading physical and psychological outcomes associated with reading.
a paper book was similar to reading its digital equivalent, both of Our results showed no significant differences between a paper
which were better than reading the digital disrupted view version book and its digital equivalent that employed an identical text
in terms of reading comprehension, feelings of fatigue, and im- presentation. Utilizing a digital equivalent version, our study
mersion. In general, our hypotheses based on the cognitive map attempted to isolate the effect of the presentation medium to
mechanism were supported, whereas our hypotheses following the investigate the impact of “(im)materiality” of the text. While some
medium materiality mechanism were not sufficiently evidenced. scholars claimed that materiality of the text influences text pro-
According to the cognitive map mechanism, human brains read cessing (e.g., Mangen, 2008), our results failed to show sufficient
by constructing a mental map of the text based on the spatial evidence in support of the medium materiality mechanism. No
placement of the textual information on a page. The extent to significant differences were revealed between the paper book and
which a text presentation facilitates or impedes the formation of a its digital equivalent condition in terms of participants' scores on
cognitive map of the text structure would influence text processing. comprehension questions, their self-reported feelings of fatigue, or
We observed that reading with disrupted view, a specific design their level of immersion. The present findings implied that reading
that hindered mental map construction, appeared to be a on a screen could match that of reading from paper if the repre-
compromised reading experience in terms of comprehension, sentation of the document on electronic reading devices resemble
feelings of fatigue, and psychological immersion. When reading the that of the printed book. This implication is in line with the belief of
paper book or its preserved digital equivalent on a screen, the fixed some scholars and designers that the design of electronic reading
layout of the text presentation provides effective structural cues (Li devices should follow a book metaphor, so that users can exploit
et al., 2013) for forming a spatial representation of each page of the their familiarity with the established conventions of reading a pa-
comic. As such, participants were able to obtain structural knowl- per book and interpret the electronic texts more readily and intu-
edge of the text, as well as its content. On the contrary, when itively (Barker, Richard, & Benest, 1994; Benest, 1990; Crestani &
reading the comic in the disrupted view mode, our participants lost
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