How optimized speed reading works

The speed reading training is based on certain characteristics of the human brain and eyes, together with our memory, which can be optimized and taken advantage of by anybody who wishes this. There are 5 valid scientific arguments that show us how fast reading is accessible to anyone. You can read bellow a brief description of this 5 arguments.

1. The path for processing the meaning of written information is different to the path for processing visual features (e.g. shape, color etc.). The path for processing the meaning of information is dominant, which means that we automatically allocate the most psychical resources to it when we read. We are basically more interested in understanding what we are reading, and less in the way the letters look. Our brain is designed to favor mainly the understanding of the text and only subsequently the graphic aspects.

2. When we read, our eyes move in a jerky manner over the text. The movement is not a fluid one, but rather one in jumps. Between two jumps, the eyes fixate on the text and that is when we actually read the word or group of words upon which we stopped. Then we jump to the next word or group of words. The muscles of our eyes are the ones that produce these jumps and they are also the ones that focus on the information so that it can be read. They are the fastest muscles in the body and can focus on a word in 20–150 milliseconds. When we read at a rate of 250 words per minute, the focus is done in 250–300 milliseconds for each word, a much higher time interval which translates into a much slower movement of these muscles.

3. We learnt how to read texts word by word. However, we can widen our visual field and read several adjacent words each time our eyes focus on the text. We can focus on between four and seven adjacent words by also training our peripheral vision during the act of reading.

4. The speed reading training also involves the progressive deactivation of a practice acquired during the process of learning how to read and which gradually becomes useless but resource consuming. We are referring to the movement of our vocal chords. We learn to read out loud and the transition to silent reading is done bit by bit, as the act of reading becomes automated. Yet the movement of the vocal chords continues to occur, albeit to a less noticeable degree, even when we are reading silently. The acquired reflex causes the average reading speed to remain at about 250 words per minute. As the reading speed increases, the movement of the vocal chords will decrease and the newly available psychological resources can be directed towards understanding and memorizing the text that is being read.

5. The operation of our working memory is optimized by fast reading. The visual information is stored, for about 100 milliseconds, in a sensory, intermediate memory before it reaches the working memory. If the transfer of the information from the sensory memory to the working memory is done within the 100 milliseconds interval, the information is transferred completely. If the transfer is done in a longer time then it becomes more and more precarious because the information in the sensory memory gradually diminishes after the 100 milliseconds. In order to fully transfer the visual information from the sensory memory to the working memory, we need reading speeds of 900–1000 words per minute. From these speed levels we can transfer whole and unattended words into working memory combined with the total lack of vocal chords. From this reading speed, we are in the field of optimized fast reading.

Psychologist, MSc.

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