Don’t Listen to Audiobooks If You Want to Pay Attention

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As the battle rages between e-book enthusiasts and paper-and-ink purists, it’s easy to forget that there’s another way to enjoy books. The popularity of audiobooks is on the rise, and it is estimated to be more than a billion-dollar industry. But as Fast Company recently reported, a study conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario concluded that listening to audiobooks might not be the best way to engage with the latest bestseller.

Participants in the study were given three passages from Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything — one which they read silently, one which they read out loud, and one which they listened to. They were tested for mind-wandering, memory, and interest. Across the board, listening yielded the lowest scores. Yes, participants even showed less interest in passages that they listened to instead of reading themselves.

The key seems to be the level of physical activity demanded of the participant. Reading aloud involves both oral and visual components, and participants’ minds wandered the least when they read passages out loud. Even reading silently still requires physical activity in the form of moving one’s eyes and turning the page. The authors of the study draw a link between this physical participation and engagement with the text.

So if you want to pay more attention and actually retain what you read, audiobooks probably aren’t your best option.

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