You Could Read this Post in 30 Seconds, But How Much Would You Remember?

October 12th, 2014 No Comments Other

speed reading

Productivity, convenience and just about anything that allows us to pack more into our already hectic lives is in high demand these days, so it’s hardly surprising that a recently released speed-reading app has been met with excitement from most corners.

But as convenient as digesting 1000 words per minute may seem, new research raises concerns that quicker word processing may not be the best strategy for comprehension and long-term learning.

The new technique is designed to facilitate faster reading on smaller devices by briefly displaying one word at a time at a fixed spot on the display. Theoretically, this should prevent the eyes from wandering off and leave more mental energy for processing the text.

But according to psychological scientists from the University of California, San Diego, the app prevents readers from going back to reread words or sections they may have missed or misunderstood, which hinders their overall comprehension of the text.

“The problem with looking to an app to read for you is that the app doesn’t have any knowledge about what you are getting out of the text,” says lead researcher Elizabeth R. Schotter.

“If you miss something crucial, the app will keep going and not allow you to go back and fix the problem.”

To test the effects of the app on reading and comprehension, the researchers used a high-speed camera to track 40 college students’ eye movements as they read through a text.

In some instances, they were able to read in the usual way; but at other times, each word was obscured with an X as soon as the students’ eyes had registered it. This prevented them from returning to words they hadn’t understood or wanted more information about, thus mimicking the way a speed-reading app might hinder rereading.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that students’ comprehension levels were lower when they were unable to go back and reread words or sentences that had been obscured.

“The major point of our paper is that the brain needs to control the sequence and duration of linguistic input for successful understanding. To do this, the brain tells the eyes where to go and for how long in real time,” says Schotter.

“There is no scientific evidence that I have seen to suggest that any app will lead to as successful reading as normal reading via eye movements,” she adds.

While this finding may not matter too much for certain types of reading, it does highlight the importance of taking your time when learning something new, because like most of the important things in life; real learning takes time, and no app or gadget can change that.


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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