The problem with that amazing speed-reading app

New research isn't promising for the future of speed-reading apps.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor
In February, a company called Spritz unveiled an app to dramatically increase your reading speed. The idea is that words are fed to readers one at a time, with each word popping up in the same place to reduce the inefficiency of moving your eyes across a page.  

It's a fascinating idea and fun to be able read a few sentences at 500 words per minute. But, like us, scientists questioned the reading comprehension level for those who use this type of speed reading app.

A new study from the University of California, San Diego addressed this question based on previous knowledge that readers move their eyes to reread text about 10 to 15 percent of the time.

"Our findings show that eye movements are a crucial part of the reading process," said Elizabeth Schotter psychological scientist at the University of California, San Diego and lead author of the study, in a press release. "Our ability to control the timing and sequence of how we intake information about the text is important for comprehension. Our brains control how our eyes move through the text -- ensuring that we get the right information at the right time."

In other words: forget about reading the first Harry Potter book in 77 minutes. Or at least remembering what happens if you do. 

To come to this conclusion, the researchers studied reading comprehension of 40 college students. Some of the time students read as they normally would, other times the words turned to Xs as their eyes passed over them so that they could not reread or glance back in a sentence.

Comprehension levels were roughly the same for the students reading normally, whether they regressed to reread sentences or not. 

But when comparing comprehension level between normal reading and reading where the words are masked after you read them, reading with masked sentences "impaired comprehension."

And it didn't matter if the masked sentences were easy, difficult, or ambiguous sentences. The assumption then, is that regressions -- or rereading -- "are critical for reading comprehension across the board."

Is there a place for speed-reading technology? Sure. It could be a great way to get text messages on smartwatches. Advertisers could fit their product pitch into tighter spaces. But is the way we read books about to get a dramatic overhaul? Probably not.

Photo: Flickr/seasonal wanderer

Related on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards