About the project

Researchers from the Department of Psychology and the University of Reading are investigating the effects of reading storybooks on touch screens on children’s comprehension and enjoyment of reading. The first study was published in November 2016 in a special edition of Frontiers in Psychology, titled ‘Touch screen tablets touching children’s lives’ (see below).

Touch-screen storybooks turn reading into an interactive multimedia experience, with hotspot-activated animations, sound effects and games. While positive and negative effects of reading multimedia stories have been reported, the underlying mechanisms that explain how children’s learning is affected remain unclear.

In this study, 7-year-olds (n = 22) were observed reading one touch-screen storybook and one print storybook with their mothers. The study examined the effect of storybook format (touch-screen and print) on story comprehension and considered how the level of touch-screen interactivity (high and low) and shared reading behaviours (cognitive and emotional scaffolding, emotional engagement) might contribute to comprehension. The key findings are summarised below. Further research is planned for 2018/19.


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, 1728. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01728. Read it online.

The potential for touch-screen storybooks to contribute to cognitive overload in 7-year-old developing readers is discussed in the paper, as is the complex relationship between cognitive and emotional scaffolding behaviours, emotional engagement, and comprehension. Sample characteristics and methodological limitations are also discussed to help inform future research.


Research team

Dr Rachel Pye, University of Reading

Rachel teaches and researches reading development, dyslexia, and reading across languages. She is experienced in testing children’s reading and general ability in schools across Reading, Berkshire and Hampshire, as well as internationally in Japan.

Dr Kirsty Ross, University of Winchester

Kirsty teaches and researches children’s emotional development and she has investigated the contexts of children’s joyful emotional expressions across cultures and across primate species. Kirsty is experienced in observational research methods and worked in market research for several years.

Dr Jordan Randell, University of Winchester

Jordan teaches research methods in psychology and researches methodological approaches to psychological research, including the impact of technological advances on research outcomes. Jordan is experienced in data analysis and has worked on a project looking at the effects of parent-child interaction on child development.

Findings overview

  • Story comprehension was inferior for the touch screen storybooks compared to the print formats.
  • Touch-screen interactivity level had no significant effect on comprehension but did affect shared reading behaviours.
  • 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, thanks 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 behaviours, but mothers' controlling behaviours were more frequent.
  • Storybook format had no effect on the frequency of mothers’ cognitive scaffolding behaviours (comprehension questions, word help).
  • Relationships between comprehension and shared reading behaviours were examined for each storybook, and although length of the shared reading session and controlling behaviours had significant effects on comprehension, the mechanisms driving comprehension were not fully explained by the data.