A new study suggests that speed reading, the activity that aims to increase the speed of language comprehension by glancing at, rather than reading large swathes of text, is actually a farce. The study claims that because we only process information via a small part of our cornea, that simply looking at text is not tantamount to reading it. Jeffrey M. Zacks and Rebecca Treiman, the latter who conducted the study in question, write about these findings in the New York Times. In partial below, the full version here.
The first popular speed-reading course, introduced in 1959 by Evelyn Wood, was predicated on the idea that reading was slow because it was inefficient. The course focused on teaching people to make fewer back-and-forth eye movements across the page, taking in more information with each glance. Today, apps like SpeedRead With Spritz aim to minimize eye movement even further by having a digital device present you with a stream of single words one after the other at a rapid rate.
Unfortunately, the scientific consensus suggests that such enterprises should be viewed with suspicion. In a recent article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, one of us (Professor Treiman) and colleagues reviewed the empirical literature on reading and concluded that it’s extremely unlikely you can greatly improve your reading speed without missing out on a lot of meaning.
Certainly, readers are capable of rapidly scanning a text to find a specific word or piece of information, or to pick up a general idea of what the text is about. But this is skimming, not reading. We can definitely skim, and it may be that speed-reading systems help people skim better.
*Image of speed reader via http://7speedreadingreview.com