Reading VS. Listening: How They Affect Knowledge Acquisition

Fatima Shaikh
October 4, 2022

There are moments when reading while curled up in your favorite chair is the best thing ever. But audiobooks can be more practical if you want to read while multitasking. With a book in your hands, it's hard to deep clean the bathroom or drive. But you can't really understand complex theories if you can only listen to them. You can read a news story or listen to the news. The point is, knowledge is there in front of you, so it is natural to question whether there is a better way to acquire it.

As humans, we have numerous ways to convey and understand information. Although we are born with ears, eyes, or mouths, we are never taught how to use them, we just figure it out on our own. We learn to talk as children by mimicking others and listening to the people who are close to us. By performing these actions repeatedly, each of them aids in the development of our learning abilities. But how frequently do we give thought to these abilities and are they effective in how we assimilate knowledge now?

What Goes On In Your Brain While You’re Reading?

The majority of us are aware that reading is beneficial for brain health, but many of us don't know the exact reason behind it. Reading is a highly cognitive and mentally stimulating activity that combines learning via written material and comprehension. Different areas of the brain are activated when you read and then process it. This includes:

●     Frontal lobes: which are involved in information processing, attention skills, reading fluency, and language comprehension

●     Temporal lobes: which are responsible for memory

●     Parietal lobes: which are responsible for language processing

●     Occipital lobes: which are responsible for visually processing the words on the page

●     Cerebellum: which is responsible for motor control related to visual processing such as moving your pupils across the words.

Although reading and listening share similar comprehension techniques, there are some distinctions in how they handle information. Readers frequently retain more information and excel at comprehension, while listeners create understanding as they listen.

Weighing The Effectiveness Of Reading And Listening

The best way to approach this subject is, well, subjectively. Every one of us is unique, and therefore, we all acquire knowledge differently. Some find listening to information more beneficial than reading it, while a lot of people cannot process it without reading the words on a screen or paper. The effectiveness of each might be affected by the following factors:


When you're driving, doing chores, or exercising, listening to an audiobook will be a lot more convenient and effective. Listening is the best option when you don't have time to read and have to multitask. If you’re trying to cram subjects in little time, listening may be a better option for that.


In a study, researchers discovered that depending on the content, the brain processes information a bit differently when it comes to listening or reading. While listening to entertaining audio explanations could be beneficial, reading is more efficient when you are trying to absorb complex ideas. Reading allows your brain to actively interact with the knowledge so you may carefully study and analyze it later on.


Your memory can be improved by reading. While you may forget what you listened to, there are higher chances of remembering the same information after reading it. Reading stimulates the brain and requires constant recall of words and theories. By taking notes or discussing what you read, you can improve your short-term and long-term memory. Older people may also benefit from reading because it slows down cognitive decline.

Is There Some Science Behind The Effectiveness Of Reading?

Here are some scientific factors that contribute to the effectiveness of reading when learning:


When it comes to comprehension, reading is the most effective. Listening needs less engagement and focus than reading. Even if you don't fully understand a difficult topic on the first read, your brain is narrating the words on the page and actively engaging with the subject as you read. When you read, your mind is attempting to process new information. This is called active learning, which is the most effective way to retain information.

Whereas with listening, because your brain doesn't always actively participate with the content, learning via listening to an audiobook or podcast is seen as passive learning. Passive learning has a higher chance of your brain forgetting the information if it's not applied or tested soon.


We all tend to get distracted and space out from time to time whether we are reading or listening. After you snap back into reality, rereading a book will be easier and quicker than skipping back over an audiobook or a podcast once you've regained your mental equilibrium. Based on the amount of time it will take to rewind the audio, your focus level is likely to break, which can affect your learning.


Study after study has shown that humans read faster than they listen. Humans listen at an average speed of 150 words per minute and are capable of listening and comprehending about 300 words per minute. As a result, most people understand more information when they read than when they listen.

A Happy Crossroad

In the end, whether you like reading physical books or learning via audiobooks, either way, you're doing something beneficial for your brain. It all depends on the quality of the information your brain processes and which method you think works best for you. It’s important to maintain your daily learning quota so that your cognitive learning abilities remain strong and can assimilate knowledge better and on a long-term basis.

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