Children happier with books than digital reading devices according to University of Sussex study

Children enjoy being read to via a book more than a digital device, according to a new study by the University of Sussex.

Theres nothing quite like a paper book
Theres nothing quite like a paper book

Since the birth of digital reading technology, arguments have raged over whether reading from a screen has any significant effects on the experience of reading and shared storytelling among both adults and children.

Now, a study by psychologists at the University of Sussex has found that when children and parents read together, what they’re reading from does appear have an impact on the physical and emotional connection between them.

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The researchers assessed 7- to 9-year-old children and their mothers sharing a story book in each of four conditions: mother or child as reader, paper or tablet screen as medium.

They discovered that whilst the medium did not affect information retention, interaction and warmth was lower for screen than for paper and dropped over time for screens, particularly when children rather than mothers took the role of reader.

Children also showed higher story engagement with paper than with screen, and there was evidence that mothers made more story-relevant comments with paper books.

Additionally, the team found evidence that usage was linked to different positioning for mother and child; on the whole, child readers held and used tablets in ways more typical of individual use, so mothers had to ‘shoulder-surf’ the screen.

Conversely, mothers read paper books in ways that supported shared visual attention, enabling the child to adopt a range of curled-up postures.

Dr Nicola Yuill, who led the study, said that the results were indicative of the confidence modern children possess as ‘digital natives’, being able to comfortably take control of the reading situation when confronted with a digital device.

“Because digital devices are so often used in solo situations, reading books on digital devices moves from a potentially shared activity to a more individual, private activity.

“Our results demonstrate that the use of digital technology and the activity of reading seemed to exist in two somewhat separate spheres.”

Multiple usage of a digital device is also likely to have an effect on a child’s engagement with a reading task.

“A paper book tends to have a single purpose, while an e-book is often only one app on a highly multi-functional device that can also be used to book tickets, play games, work on spreadsheets, and watch films,” adds Dr Yuill.

“E-readers and e-reading apps could perhaps be designed to underpin adult support better, or to provide audio-visual cues to support synchronisation of adult help in shared reading.”

The study appears in Frontiers in Psychology and can be viewed in full at