Speed reading claim called into question

23 Apr

I have always wanted to believe that speed reading is possible and that, some day, I could obtain this ability. One of the claims made in speed reading courses and books is that regression, going back and rereading words, contributes to slow reading and can be eliminated.

Now, a paper published in Psychological Science reports evidence that regression is necessary for comprehension. Here is the abstract:

 

Recent Web apps have spurred excitement around the prospect of achieving speed reading by eliminating eye movements (i.e., with rapid serial visual presentation, or RSVP, in which words are presented briefly one at a time and  sequentially). Our experiment using a novel trailing-mask paradigm contradicts these claims. Subjects read normally or while the display of text was manipulated such that each word was masked once the reader’s eyes moved past it. This manipulation created a scenario similar to RSVP: The reader could read each word only once; regressions (i.e., rereadings of words), which are a natural part of the reading process, were functionally eliminated. Crucially, the inability to regress affected comprehension negatively. Furthermore, this effect was not confined to ambiguous sentences. These data suggest that regressions contribute to the ability to understand what one has read and call into question the viability of speed-reading apps that eliminate eye movements (e.g., those that use RSVP).

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that there is trade off between reading speed and comprehension.

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One Response to “Speed reading claim called into question”

  1. locksleyu April 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    I’d be very surprised if there was not a tradeoff between comprehension and speed. Usually you can’t get something for nothing (:

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