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Digital Reading vs. Paper Reading: Does Mind Wandering Mediate Comprehension Differences?

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Research on reading from digital devices has generally shown a decline in comprehension performance when reading from a digital screen as opposed to reading from paper, under certain conditions—namely, when texts are both longer and when comprehension is measured as deeper-level understanding of text, relying on higher order reading skills rather than merely measuring recall. The present study attempted to replicate previous findings, and to investigate whether comprehension declines are mediated by increased mind wandering when reading from a digital medium compared to when reading from paper. A sample of 169 high school students was given a text to read, either on paper or on a digital tablet. Following the reading, subjects were given two reading tests: one an inference-based comprehension test, the other a recall test. Mind wandering was measured by using a mind wandering probe adapted from Hollis and Was (2016). I did not replicate previous findings: I found no significant relationship between reading condition and inference-based comprehension. Further, no relationship was found between reading condition and mind wandering (i.e., there was not more mind wandering in the digital condition, as I had hypothesized). However, mind wandering was significantly related to inference-based comprehension, and a novel approach to capturing mind wandering in a group setting was successfully implemented. I discuss implications of these findings and possible directions for future research.

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