Today (19/8/2019), The Telegraph has published an article on audio books and here I’ll explore if audio books are as effective as reading books.
Neuroscientists have discovered that the same cognitive and emotional parts of the brain are stimulated whether a person hears words, or reads them on a page.
Experts at a california University say,
Lead author Dr Fatma Deniz, a researcher in neuroscience said: “At a time when more people are absorbing information via audiobooks, podcasts and even audio texts, our study shows that, whether they’re listening to or reading the same materials, they are processing semantic information similarly.
It was a small group who were exposed to a piece of text at an auditory level and they found;
Researchers scanned the brains in both the listening and reading conditions to compare brain activity and found they were virtually identical. They also found that words activated specific parts of the brain depending on whether they were visual, tactile, numeric, locational, violent, mental, emotional and or social.
However, I’m sure as many of you will have considered, language stimulation is ok if you can process it. You do have to have a semantic link to words and know the vocabulary. You have to have been able to process the sounds and words correctly and an auditory processing difficulty (APD) may impact upon this. We know if a word has been heard incorrectly it will be stored incorrectly and the wrong meaning attached to it. I speak from experience of having a father who had experienced many ear infections as a child and had not stored words correctly. Maybe if he had seen the word written down he may have stored it correctly.
In fact they article goes on to draw our attention to APD
“It would be very helpful to be able to compare the listening and reading semantic maps for people with auditory processing disorder.”
There are also children who have language development delays, for many reasons and have not developed basic vocabulary, who will find processing language and meaning difficult. That’s not to say this can be any more supported by written text. In fact, they may engage more with an audio book.
One aspect the article does not cover is what listeners may be doing whilst listening to a book. Quite often podcasts and audio books are listened to ‘on-the-go’. This might be whilst walking or at the gym. I recently wrote and article for ADSHE (read it here) where I highlighted other research on the benefits of exercise and movement whilst learning. It has an amazing impact on the brain processing information.
Audio books also help engage the reluctant reader. For many struggling readers they get no pleasure from reading, yet are missing out on developing vocabulary and learning about different styles of writing, as well as the basic impact on learning which takes place. Where audio books have a book to track text, this can also help students develop reading skills.
The British Dyslexia Association have advice on audio books and you can learn more about it here