Reading: Books with busy pictures ‘make it harder for children to concentrate and understand the story’

Illustrating children’s books with too many detailed, non-essential images makes it “more difficult for children to concentrate and absorb knowledge”, a study has shown.

Colorful images meant to engage young readers can achieve the exact opposite by distracting attention from the story text, US researchers have warned.

Although reading is considered a ‘gateway to learning’, around 20% of children in the UK do not achieve the minimum level of literacy proficiency.

Children’s books typically include eye-catching illustrations to help readers visualize the characters and story setting.

However, eye-tracking studies have found that too many images can be distracting.

Illustrating children’s books with too many detailed, non-essential images makes it “more difficult for children to concentrate and absorb knowledge”, a study has shown. Pictured is a picture book

Colorful images meant to engage young readers can achieve the exact opposite by distracting attention from the story text, US researchers have warned.  Pictured is an example of a children's <a class=reading book, with text highlighted in blue, essential images in green, and distracting, non-essential illustrations highlighted in red” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%” />

Colorful images meant to engage young readers can achieve the exact opposite by distracting attention from the story text, US researchers have warned. Pictured is an example of a children’s reading book, with text highlighted in blue, essential images in green, and distracting, non-essential illustrations highlighted in red

“Learning to read is hard work for many children,” said article author and psychologist Anna Fisher of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“Foreign images can distract the reader’s eyes from the text and disrupt the concentration needed to understand the story.”

In their study, Dr. Fisher and his colleagues gave a group of adults a book designed for children’s reading practice and asked them to identify which images were entertaining but not essential to understanding the story.

These superfluous images were then removed from the second half of the book before the work was given to 60 American first and second grade students, i.e. aged 6 to 8, to read.

A wearable eye-tracker was used to monitor the number of times each student moved their gaze from text to images on the page.

The team found that children moved their gaze less when reading the simplified half of the book and had higher comprehension scores.

“During these primary school years, children go through a period of transition in which they are increasingly expected to read independently,” said the author of the article and psychologist Cassondra Eng, also from Carnegie Mellon University.

This has become even more true amid COVID-19, she added, which has forced children to learn with less in-person guidance from teachers.

The results of the study, she said, will allow us to “design materials based on learning theories that can be very useful for children and enrich their experiences with technology.”

Children who were most likely to look away from text while reading were also most likely to benefit from the simplified version, the team found.

Dr. Fisher and his colleagues have suggested that authors, illustrators and publishers consider removing distracting and unnecessary images from educational materials for first-time readers.

In their study, Dr Fisher and colleagues gave a group of adults a book designed for children's reading practice (pictured, top) and asked them to identify which images were entertaining but not essential for understand the story.  These superfluous images were then removed from the second half of the book (bottom) before the work was given to 60 American first and second grade students, i.e. ages 6 to 8, to that they read.

In their study, Dr Fisher and colleagues gave a group of adults a book designed for children’s reading practice (pictured, top) and asked them to identify which images were entertaining but not essential for understand the story. These superfluous images were later removed from the second half of the book (bottom) before the work was given to 60 American first and second graders – that is, those aged 6 to 8 – to read.

“It’s not a magic bullet, and it won’t solve all the challenges of learning to read,” Dr. Fisher warned.

“But if we can take steps to make it a little easier to practice reading and reduce some of the barriers, we can help children engage with printed material and derive enjoyment from it.”

The researchers cautioned, however, that the study was limited by its assessment of children’s reading habits based on a single book.

The full results of the study have been published in the journal npj Science of learning.

WHY ARE GIRLS BETTER THAN BOYS IN READING AND WRITING?

Research shows that girls generally perform better than boys on standardized literacy tests.

The trend is observed from the age of 10 and continues until the age of 18.

Previous research has shown that women and men use their brains differently.

Girls use both brain hemispheres to read and write, while boys usually rely on just one.

Boys also exhibit more disruptive behavior than girls in class.

They are more likely to be inattentive and interrupt teachers.

Scientists also suggest that reading and language are seen as female skills, even from an early age.

This means that boys are less likely than girls to push to improve these skills.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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