We have all had a teacher tell us to put our laptops away because it’s better to take notes on paper. That may still be true, but a new study, led by Dartmouth researchers Geoff Kaufmann and Carnegie Mellon Mary Flanagan, finds that studying off a screen may actually help sometimes.
In the study of 300 young adults, participants performed a number of reading comprehension and problem-solving tests. Some performed the tasks on a computer, while others did them on paper. Researchers found that those who used the screen were better at grasping facts and details but worse at thinking abstractly, while the opposite was true for those who used paper.
Compared to those using paper, participants who did the reading on a computer provided descriptions of what they had read that focused more on details like events, dates, and names. They also performed better on fact recall questions but worse on questions that required more thinking.
So basically, taking science notes on your laptop might actually help you, but when it comes to a philosophy class, you might want to do it the old-fashioned way.
Not only do these findings shed light on how we should be studying, but they also show how the widespread use of technology could impact the way we process all types of information every day.
“Smartphones are great devices for looking up quick, concrete facts like the name of an actor or a restaurant we want to try,” Flanagan said in an interview with ABC News. “They may not be best at helping us remember larger concepts, though.”
At the end of the day, these findings only reflect one study, and those in the scientific community want to remind us to never make broad conclusions based on such a small amount of research.
“This was a small, well-run study, but we have to be careful about extending the findings to the population at large,” said Craig Stark, a professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine. “We really need more research about how digital media affects us now and in the long-run.”