Modern speedreading apps don’t help comprehension

Do you know Tsundoku? It’s a Japanese word to describe the pile of books that lays beside your bed that you should read. It is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. If only you could read a bit faster, maybe that could help?

I’m sorry, but the answer seems to be ‘no’ as this new study by Acklin and Papesh shows:

Despite the claims of companies marketing speed-reading tools (e.g., Spritz), our results clearly demonstrated comprehension deficits after rapid presentation of text passages. Consistent with pre- vious research (e.g., Juola et al., 1982), RSVP text presentation led to comprehension scores well be- low those obtained after static reading, regardless of whether the presentation rate was 700 or 1,000 wpm.

The test group wasn’t that big, as forty-two undergraduate psychology students from Louisiana State University with a mean age of 20 years (SD = 2.36) and an average of 14.8 (SD = 1.27) years of education participated in this study for partial course credit. Still the results seem quite damning.

Abstract of the study:

New computer apps are gaining popularity by suggesting that reading speeds can be drastically increased when eye movements that normally occur during reading are eliminated. This is done using rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP), where words are presented 1 at a time, thus preventing natural eye movements such as saccades, fixations, and regressions from occurring. Although the companies producing these apps suggest that RSVP reading does not yield comprehension deficits, research investigating the role of eye movements in reading documents shows the necessity of natural eye movements for accurate comprehension. The current study explored variables that may affect reading comprehension during RSVP reading, including text difficulty (6th grade and 12th grade), text presentation speed (static, 700 wpm, and 1,000 wpm), and working memory capacity (WMC). Consistent with recent work showing a tenuous relationship between comprehension and WMC, participants’ WMC did not predict comprehension scores. Instead, comprehension was most affected by reading speed: Static text was associated with superior performance, relative to either RSVP reading condition. Furthermore, slower RSVP speeds yielded better verbatim comprehension, and faster speeds benefited inferential comprehension.

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Filed under Education, Psychology, Research

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