Reading touch screen storybooks with mothers negatively affects 7-year-old readers' comprehension but enriches emotional engagement

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Touch screen storybooks turn reading into an interactive multimedia experience, with hotspot-activated animations, sound effects, and games. Positive and negative effects of reading multimedia stories have been reported, but the underlying mechanisms which explain how children’s learning is affected remain uncertain. The present study examined the effect of storybook format (touch screen and print) on story comprehension, and considered how level of touch screen interactivity (high and low) and shared reading behaviors (cognitive and emotional scaffolding, emotional engagement) might contribute to comprehension. Seven-year-olds (n = 22) were observed reading one touch screen storybook and one print storybook with their mothers. Story comprehension was inferior for the touch screen storybooks compared to the print versions. Touch screen interactivity had no significant effect on comprehension but did affect shared reading behaviors. The mother-child dyads spent less time talking about the story in the highly interactive touch screen condition, despite longer shared reading sessions because of touch screen interactions. Positive emotional engagement was greater for children and mothers in the highly interactive touch screen condition, due to additional positive emotions expressed during touch screen interactions. Negative emotional engagement was greater for children when reading and talking about the story in the highly interactive condition, and some mothers demonstrated negative emotional engagement with the touch screen activities. The less interactive touch screen storybook had little effect on shared reading behaviors, but mothers controlling behaviors were more frequent. Storybook format had no effect on the frequency of mothers’ cognitive scaffolding behaviors (comprehension questions, word help). Relationships between comprehension and shared reading behaviors were examined for each storybook, and length of the shared reading session and controlling behaviors had significant effects on comprehension, but the mechanisms driving comprehension were not fully explained by the data. The potential for touch screen storybooks to contribute to cognitive overload in seven-year-old developing readers is discussed, as is the complex relationship between cognitive and emotional scaffolding behaviors, emotional engagement, and comprehension. Sample characteristics and methodological limitations are also discussed to help inform future research.




Ross, K. M., Pye, R. E., & Randell, J. (2016). Reading touch screen storybooks with mothers negatively affects 7-year-old readers’ comprehension but enriches emotional engagement. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(NOV).

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