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The effect of page layout on mental workload: A dual-task experiment

Journal article
Authors Erik Wästlund
Torsten Norlander
Trevor Archer
Published in Computers in Human Behavior
Volume 24
Issue 3
Pages 1229-1245
Publication year 2008
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 1229-1245
Language en
Keywords Working memory; Dual-task; Mental workload; Information processing; Reading; Page layout
Subject categories Psychology


In two dual-task experiments, the effects of page layout on mental workload were explored. Previous studies indicate that it is preferable to present a text document on paper than to display it on a computer screen (e.g. Mayes, D. K., Sims, V. K., & Koonce, J. M. (2001). Comprehension and workload differences for VDT and paper-based reading. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 28(6), 367–378; Wastlund, E., Reinikka, H., Norlander, T., & Archer, T. (2005). Effects of VDT and paper presentation on consumption and production of information: Psychological and physiological factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 21, 377–394). However, critics have advocated improper matching of the materials between the two media as a confounding variable e.g. (Noyes, J. M., & Garland, K. J. (2003). VDT versus paper-based text: reply to Mayes, Sims and Koonce. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 31(6), 411–423). The focus of the present study has been to take one such variable, page layout, and then isolate and replicate it onscreen in order to assess its affect on user performance. The results of the present experiments showed that optimizing the page layout for onscreen viewing decreased mental workload. This not only confirms the importance of matching all aspects of the presentational modes in doing paper vs. computer comparisons, but also shows that reading from a computer screen can be facilitated by creating documents with a page layout that is adapted to the screen which they are intended to be presented on.

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