In the last few years, audiobooks have changed the way we consume books. But is it as effective as reading one or is it detrimental to how we comprehend text? We tell you all about it.

If you have not yet ventured into the realm of audiobooks because of pre-held reservations about it not being the apt way of consuming a book, think again!

If you didn’t know already, audiobooks have been around since 1932, since the establishment of a recording studio by The American Foundation for the Blind that recorded books on vinyl records. Since then, audiobooks have been widely available although it may not have offered as wide of an assortment of literature as it does today. It was only in the last couple of years with platforms like Audible (fun fact, Audible was established in 1995) that the term audiobook became a household name.

We are a part of a world that leans on convenience, and audiobooks provide just that. There has been plenty of discourse over the usefulness of the medium… Whether audiobooks are as good as the traditional way of reading? How do our brains comprehend these two ways of absorbing literature? Does listening to an audiobook make us less astute than reading a book or is it the other way around? Let’s look at the positives first.

Comprehending and Learning New Words
When you listen to a book being read to you, you are able to gauge the various ways in which words are articulated, its tone as well as its context and application, which is sometimes hard to do with a physical book.

Lets Your Imagination Run Wild
A study conducted by the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour concluded that our brains are more likely to create vivid visuals when we listen to a story in contrast to when we read it. This is because the onus of reading is upon the narrator of the audiobook which leaves room for our brains to focus on creating a picture of what we hear.

Attaching Deeper Meaning to Words and Phrases
When reading a book, there are a lot of processes at work to aid in the comprehension of the text we read. This involves deriving meaning from the words, imagining what the narrator sounds like, and creating the setting of the scene being described. In case we miss out on any one of these, there’s always the option to go back to words or sentences and re-read them. Since this is not possible with audiobooks, unless you rewind the story (let’s face it, it’s more trouble), our brain is then geared to immediately extract profound meaning in what we hear.

An Option for Reluctant Readers and those with Disabilities
Audiobooks are great for inculcating a love for books amongst young children. There is a reason why kids who are read to at a very young age develop healthy reading habits at a later point in life. They are also great for anyone who is visually impaired, dyslexic or averse to reading books in the traditional format. It allows them to focus on and easily comprehend words because the main job of reading is taken care of by the narrator.

On the other hand, there have been contradictory studies that refute the findings mentioned above. In an article published by TIME titled Are Audiobooks as Good for You as Reading? Here’s What Experts Say, it talks about how “printed text being anchored to a specific location on a page seems to help people remember it better than screen-based text. This may be relevant to the audiobook versus book debate because, like digital screens, audiobooks deny users the spatial cues they would use while reading from printed text.”

The article goes on to also describe another impediment that involves how our minds tend to naturally wander, irrespective of whether we are reading a book or listening to one. “If you are 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. Turning the page of the book gives you a slight break—this brief pause may create space for your brain to store or savour the information you’re absorbing,” the article states. One other issue with audiobooks, especially pertaining to learning, is how listeners are unable to highlight parts of the text that they deem important, or for that matter, gauge what part of the text is italicised or bold for emphasis.

Despite all the contradictory studies, when the neuroscientists at the University of California at Berkeley studied the MRI brain scans of individuals who read a book and listened to one, found that the human brain is in fact equally stimulated in both scenarios! It perhaps boils down to how our individual minds are wired and what our preferences are. With all the positives of audiobooks, what is also important to remember is that today, especially, a significant number of us are interested in audiobooks because reading requires more effort. You cannot multitask while you read. With audiobooks, this isn’t the case. However, if it’s an audiobook that we are trying to learn from and not one for leisure or entertainment, then the chances of retaining information while we multitask is low, compared to when we read a physical book.

Published On: July 20th, 2021 / Categories: Blogs, Readers' Corner /