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This Is Your Brain on Print

What neuroscience says about why print magazine ads work
  • February 03 2016

Illustration by Gary Neill

If you're reading this in print, chances are you're behaving differently and will be retaining the information differently than if you're scanning this on a screen. You're probably more engaged and less distracted. Feeling the pages is triggering neural responses that may be improving your comprehension.

There's been a lot of scientific research tapping into the print vs. digital debate. The MPA recently released "What Can Neuroscience Tell Us About Why Print Magazine Advertising Works?," a white paper summarizing the findings of nearly 150 peer-reviewed research papers, books and reports about how consumers' brains process paper-based information. While the evidence is still accumulating, the research suggests that the print paper platform itself is responsible for the high performance of magazine media.

So let's see the brain in action:


Reading on Paper is Slower and Deeper

The preponderance of research comes to a similar conclusion—reading on a screen is faster and more superficial while reading on paper is slower and more deliberate. Digital readers tend to skim, scan and bounce—what researchers refer to as "horizontal" reading. They also note that digital readers are frequently "squirrelers" who hunt for nuggets to save and read later.

While the implications for advertising effectiveness have not been systematically studied, they do suggest that by being more deliberate with print, readers can be seduced to engage longer, putting themselves into the picture or fantasizing about the trip, the clothes or the car.


Paper-based Reading Benefits from More Focused Attention

Digital readers multitask, often to the point of distraction—reading an article has to compete with other open windows, email alerts, sports scores, social updates, texts, digital ads and on and on. More than 20 separate studies found that this hyperlinked engagement leads to lower comprehension and recall.


Paper Readers Comprehend and Remember More

Speed is one thing; comprehension is another. Of 31 studies examined, 26 found higher comprehension when subjects read on paper instead of a screen. In many cases, paper-based readers apply better metacognitive strategies such as making connections or inferences and writing comments in the margin. This gives them a surer sense of what they've read.


Reading on Paper is Multisensory

There's much to be said about the tactility of print. When Norwegian researchers had two groups of 10th graders read identical texts on paper vs. screens, they found those who read on paper scored better on reading comprehension. The researchers pointed to what is known as the haptics of reading—the way people use touch and motor skills when they read, noting holding paper and turning pages creates different stimuli than scrolling text.

Neuroscientists believe that we use different parts of our brain to encode information that we see, hear or feel to the touch. People are more likely to grasp and remember information gathered through multiple platforms and multiple senses. Multisensory coding also gives you more recall triggers.


Print Advertising Makes Products More Desirable

Neuroscience studies find that ads on physical materials generate more emotional processing—partly because of motor processing of multisensory consumption—than do digital ads. A recent study from Temple University neuroscientists found that people were more likely to remember an ad and its context if they saw it in print than if they saw it on screen. Neural brain mapping backed this up. In fact, the print-exposed group showed significantly higher activity in the brain's ventral striatum, an area associated with reward processing and desirability. Now that sounds like a marketer's dream.



For more information: www.magazine.org