MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ingrid Haugen had read the Harper Lee classic To Kill a Mockingbird several times. But, it wasn’t until she heard the words through Sissy Spacek’s voice, that it became something special.

“It just became more intense, more real,” Haugen said. “I could hear Scout being herself.”

Audiobooks have seen double-digit growth in recent years.

According to the St. Paul Library system, they are checked out more often than traditional books.

But, does listening to an audiobook count as reading? Good Question.

“We are, it’s actually fascinating,” said Dr. Jesse Corry, a neurologist at Allina Health.

Dr. Corry says how the brain processes reading versus listening is different, but how much a person retains can be the same.

A 2016 study comparing  e-readers with audiobooks found no significant differences. But, a 2010 study found students who read a scientific article retained more than those who listened to a podcast on the same topic.

“If you’re listening for data retention, you need to maintain engagement,” said Dr. Corry.

That can be hard if someone is listening to an audiobook while cooking, cleaning or driving. According to Dr. Corry, our brains have a hard time multi-tasking.

For example, if a reader zones out with a paper copy of a book, it’s easy to flip back a few pages. That’s not how audiobooks generally work.

“If you’re a person who’s more of audio person, audio books may be the way to go,” said Dr. Corry. “If you’re a visual person, reading may be a better way for you to maintain that engagement. ”

So, while people can’t highlight words when listening to audio, it may help others better detect nuance or sarcasm. Either way, given the growth in the market, it may just be adding to the words we’re already taking in.

Heather Brown

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