Children 3 to 5 can be distracted by e-book sounds, animation and games that don’t drive the story, reducing their comprehension, UCI researchers report. Courtesy of Stephanie Reich

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 4, 2016 – Reading e-books enhanced with sound, animation and games not related to story content may reduce learning in children between the ages of 3 and 5, according to University of California, Irvine researchers.

“With the widespread adoption of tablets, youngsters’ use of e-books continues to increase,” said lead investigator Stephanie Reich, UCI associate professor of education. “Preschoolers can learn equally well – and sometimes more – from appropriately designed e-books as from printed books, but enhanced e-books often contain features that are more distracting than educational, so careful selection is vital.”

Reich, along with Ph.D. student Joanna Chung-Yun Yau and professor of education and informatics Mark Warschauer, conducted a systematic review of comparative print/e-book studies with children 5 and younger. The results are detailed in the August issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

The team found that a child’s comprehension can be facilitated when e-book information is presented through visual and auditory modes related to the narration, such as suspenseful music playing when the Big Bad Wolf approaches or alphabet books that make the letter sound when one is tapped. But, they discovered, features that serve only a decorative function, such as the audio simulation of trees moving in the wind, can cause cognitive overload, impeding story comprehension.

Regardless of a book’s format – digital or print – youngsters learn more from in-person, shared reading experiences, as discussions of the story, text and characters enhance language development and literacy. However, the researchers noted that during e-book reading, the adult and child most often talked about the platform, while print book conversations were most frequently about the story.

“The pace of e-reading studies hasn’t kept up with the speed of e-book creation,” Reich said. “More research on the effectiveness of digital books compared to traditional print books for children’s learning is needed so that parents and educators can be critical consumers of these technologies.”

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit

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