A love of reading shouldn’t have parameters or rules as to what type of reading “counts.”
There’s a fair amount of research on the subject of comprehension in audiobooks vs reading.
The most helpful and positive of these is that of Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, of the University of Texas, Austin and Austin NPR’s Two Guys on Your Head. On reading: “When you read something, you are looking at symbols on a page, and your brain is busy filling in all the blanks.
Like the sounds of the voices, the scene, the inflection, the deeper meaning, the plot, etc.” On audiobooks: “Because you can’t go back and reread something, you’re much more likely to do a better job of trying to extract the gist of what someone meant when you’re hearing them than when you’re reading.”
Drs. Markman and Duke use the example of laughter and comedy to show how audiobooks can sometimes elicit a more emotional response to the content. “It’s a more social experience” to hear the vocal nuances, sarcasm, etc that comes from hearing another human speak.
According to the aforementioned good doctors, physically reading a book can be a more personal experience because your inner voice is responsible for creating everything that’s not on the page from only the words on the page.
“I was a fan of audiobooks, but I always viewed them as cheating,” says Beth Rogowsky, an associate professor of education at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. “We found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously,” Rogowsky says.
The fact that printed text is anchored to a specific location on a page also seems to help people remember it better than screen-based text, according to more research on the spatial attributes of traditional printed media. All this may be relevant to the audiobook vs. book debate because, like digital screens, audiobooks deny users the spatial cues they would use while reading from printed text.
Another consideration is that whether we’re reading or listening to a text, our minds occasionally wander. Seconds (or minutes) can pass before we snap out of these little mental sojourns and refocus our attention, says David Daniel, a professor of psychology at James Madison University and a member of a National Academy of Sciences project aimed at understanding how people learn.
If you’re reading, it’s pretty easy to go back and find the point at which you zoned out. It’s not so easy if you’re listening to a recording, Daniel says. Especially if you’re grappling with a complicated text, the ability to quickly backtrack and re-examine the material may aid learning, and this is likely easier to do while reading than while listening. “Turning the page of a book also gives you a slight break,” he says. This brief pause may create space for your brain to store or savor the information you’re absorbing.