Make It

Reader beware: This may be changing the way you think

If you spend a considerable amount of time reading on a tablet or laptop, you might be in for a wake-up call.

New research out of Dartmouth's interdisciplinary innovation studio Tiltfactor found users were more inclined to focus on concrete details while using digital platforms to read, rather than to interpret information from an abstract standpoint. So if your goal is to think more abstractly at work, it could be helpful to ditch the e-book for a print version.

The big picture digital devices distracting from abstract thinking
Jasper James | Getty Images

"There has been a great deal of research on how digital platforms might be affecting attention, distractibility and mindfulness, and these studies build on this work, by focusing on a relatively understudied construct," said Geoff Kaufman, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the study leader. (He was a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at Tiltfactor at the time of the study.)

Researchers looked at whether people focused on concrete details to interpret information or used a more abstract mindset. To do this, the researchers conducted four studies that comprised more than 300 adults between age 20 to 24.

The participants were given a chance to read the same content in either print, on a laptop or personal computer, before taking a pop-quiz on the material.

What they found is print users scored higher on inference questions than their digital counterparts, while digital users scored higher on concrete questions than their print counterparts.

But if print reading is out of the question for your job, no worries, there is a workaround to preserve abstract thinking. The study also found that digital readers who thought abstractly prior to performing tasks on a digital platform, performed better on a task that required abstract thinking than the average digital reader by 18 percentage points.