Audiobooks vs. Reading: Who Wins?

by Emily Roberts on March 24, 2013

cd-and-booksIn 2005, when the MP3 player audiobook craze started, it was considered cute to see people strolling or jogging along the pathways of the local parks listening to their favorite books as they exercised. Audiobooks have really seen an increase in popularity recently with people listening to them on the way to work, on breaks, while exercising and cleaning house, or even while just relaxing. Now, it seems that even times when people could be reading a book, they still tend to prefer to just plug in and listen. Audiobooks are great but controversy points to the fact that they aren’t the same as actually reading a book. Does your brain retain the information as well as if your eyes are following the written word? Read on to find out.

The Feel of the Book

Many people report that the feel of the book helps them to retain information easier. It’s been reported as an association between being cozy and the feel of the book in your hands. When most people think of reading, especially a fiction novel, it brings up images of a couch, a blanket tucked in around the legs, coffee in hand, and a fire in the fireplace. To many people, that is the best way to read, not listening to your book as you rush home from work during 5:00 traffic.

On the other hand, if it wasn’t for audiobooks in today’s ultra busy world, some people wouldn’t get to read their favorite authors at all. For many, the job, kids, and just life in general have them too exhausted to read at the end of the day, so they listen to audiobooks as they go about their daily business. It is certainly better to hear your book than not get to read it at all right?

Research Shows…

Research into the audiobook vs. reading debate has come up with some pretty interesting results. Research has shown that reading and listening are actually cognitively similar. The bottom line here is that people who read and understand what they are reading are just as likely to retain and understand what they are listening to as well. For example, reading and listening is often used in teaching a foreign language.

Research also shows that you can get distracted from reading easily and lose your place and train of thought. Which is true as avid readers know because it has happened to all of us at some time or another. A lot of losing your concentration with audiobooks is the fact that people multitask when listening to them. It’s just not possible to read a book while you are doing the dishes or vacuuming. However, with an audiobook you can easily get wrapped up in whatever task you’re doing and forget about listening to your book.

The Type of Book

The fact has been discussed that the type of book you are listening to can determine how well you absorb the words. Books that are difficult sometimes require you to go back and read other words to tie them together, something you can’t really do with an audiobook. The end result is that whether listening or reading we stop both if there is even a hint that something more interesting might be going on. That is human nature and whether we devour a book with our eyes or our ears we will still get distracted if something happens. Audiobooks force you to listen to every word that is spoken, something books often don’t do. I, myself have gotten so into a book that I skim sentences to see what happened. You can miss a lot that way. This isn’t possible with an audiobook, you hear every word of what is being read to you so the reality is that you retain more of it.

My Conclusions

While I can’t see myself curling up on the couch and listening to my book on a lazy afternoon, I can see the benefit of audiobooks. If you just can’t wait to find out who did it in our latest mystery but you have to clean the bathroom, pop on an audiobook and you will soon know. If you were up all night with a sick baby and have an exam at school the next morning, pop in your audiobook and cram on the way to school.

I guess we will never truly know whether the eyes or the ears are better when it comes to retaining knowledge, and in today’s technology driven world there are so many options from e-books to blogs and audio to video that it’s hard to slow down and even try to figure it all out.

In my opinion, it’s a personal choice or then again why can’t we all just do both? Do you read books or listen to audio? Which way suits you better? We would love to hear your opinion!

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