Viewing Online Content Longer Doesn’t Always Mean Better Comprehension

Eye tracking research – especially in advertising – often assumes that viewing content longer will mean better recall of that content.  This published study tested how complex content affects both viewing time and comprehension.
This exploratory experiment exposed participants to different text and graphic structures in health news. Results found that explanatory digital news structures enhanced learning with shorter viewing times as compared to the longer looks and less comprehension for the same content in the traditional “inverted pyramid” news stories. Explanatory graphics also enhanced learning in the explanatory digital news structure but graphics inhibited learning in the inverted pyramid news. In addition, graphics tended to increase viewing time on text and text combined with graphics for both story structures. These results suggest the importance of how news is structure for complex topics exposed to non-expert audiences.  In sum, longer viewing time (attention) does not always mean better comprehension and only certain structures of text with explanatory graphics increase understanding.

About Ron Yaros

Ronald A. Yaros researches audience engagement with multimedia and mobile journalism. His publications, including two book chapters, explore how audiences seek, select and share news. As a Blended Learning Fellow for interactive classes with social networks and a custom mobile app, he tests new ways to communicate digital information. Dr. Yaros was one of two student-nominated 2012 Excellence in Teaching Awards on campus. Prior to completing a Ph.D. in 2005 at the University of Wiiscosin-Madison, his professional experience included twenty-five years as an Emmy-award winning broadcaster and president of a software company.
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