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Do you read the news on your phone? Department of Communication professor, Johanna Dunaway thinks you might not be retaining information as well as you think.

By: Haley Venglar ‘19

If you’re reading this story on your phone, you may not be retaining as much information as you think, according to Johanna Dunaway from the Department of Communication. She and Kathleen Searles from Louisiana State University (LSU), Mingxiao Su from Ferrum College, and Newly Paul demo Appalachia State University are using eye-tracking technology to study how reading from a smartphone may hinder the learning experience.

“When I was still at LSU, I heard from a speaker that runs a Latino-based polling firm that up to 70% of Latinos in his database only have internet access through their mobile devices,” Dunaway said. “I realized that we weren’t studying how news consumption online might differ if you only have internet access through your mobile device instead of a computer.”

Because people are not good at reporting their news media consumption habits, Dunaway and Sorrels Searles knew that they would have to get creative with methods for conducting their research. Fortunately, Searles was already working with eye-tracking technology.

“We decided that this technology would allow us to track exactly what parts of the story participants were paying the most attention to and then we could compare that across computers, tablets, and smartphones,” Dunaway said.

After conducting their study, Dunaway and her colleagues found that participants did not pay as much attention to a story when they viewed it on their mobile devices and instead spent less time reading it. Though these discoveries might seem small, Dunaway is interested in the real-world implications for these results.

“Groups with less resources, like lower levels of education and income, are sometimes more likely to have to rely on their mobile phone for internet access, which means that some of these information disparities might systematically be occurring across groups,” said Dunaway. “This is problematic from the perspective of what information we want democratic citizens to have access to.”

Dunaway hopes that their research will help shape the way that information is formatted for all electronic devices in the future.

“The way that we are testing these consumption patterns actually allows us to tell news organizations what kind of stories get the most attention from mobile users,” said Dunaway. “Hopefully we can figure out ways to make the information more attention-grabbing for mobile devices without losing the substantive information.”