Read A Physical Book When You Really Need To Remember Something

Read A Physical Book When You Really Need To Remember Something

Ereaders are a handy way to carry a library around with you at all times, but an article in Time magazine suggest that ebooks might not hold the spatial cues that help you remember the text you read. The reasoning is that a physical book provides location context to what you read.

Photo by Alexandre Normand.

You have a two-page spread, a graphic or a visual difference between the pages. All these factors help you remember the text more easily. When you try to recall that information later, it’s easier when you have a physical reference point to compare the memory to. Time explains:

Context and landmarks may actually be important to going from “remembering” to “knowing”. The more associations a particular memory can trigger, the more easily it tends to be recalled. Consequently, seemingly irrelevant factors like remembering whether you read something at the top or the bottom of page — or whether it was on the right or left hand side of a two-page spread or near a graphic — can help cement material in mind.

This doesn’t mean you can’t remember what you read on a tablet, phone or computer. It just means that it might take repeated reading and a little more effort to remember. The studies mentioned in the article are small and the research is still in its infancy, but several researchers suggest that a physical book may be best when you really need to remember the contents. How about you? Have you found it difficult to remember what you read in an ebook?

Do E-Books Make it Harder to Remember What You Just Read? [Time]


  • +1. But, you CAN use tablets to create content with spatial cues. For example, I have used diagramming software to quickly sketch things out and color code them, for memorization purposes.

  • but you can ‘highlight text’ in an ereader and not worry about ruining a book. surely the process of going twice over something you want to remember while you highlight it out weighs not have a page number lol.

    also. my ereader has a progress bar down the bottom which provides the same functionality as page numbers and ‘memory cues’™

    i reckon it probably has more to do with conditioning. we’re used to scanning stuff on computer screens. where as with books we’re used to focusing more and reading everything. but yeh. i’m no scientist.

  • I can relate to this but in the context of audiobooks which I listen to while walking, driving or traveling. If I ever have to skip back to a section in the audiobook I can often remember where I was at the time when I first listened to the text. So the audio cues are reinforcing the visual memory.

  • I’ve recently graduating highschool and currently studying at university. I study biomedical science so I need to memorise textbooks quickly, i review a textbook so many times i can almost see the textbook in my head, i can see the columns, i can turn each individual page in my head, and see it all. I can’t see the words, but having this physical object which i can remember, gives me cues to the information in each paragraph.

    This doesn’t work with eReader or tablet for me at all ;\

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