What if something as simple as bolded parts of a word could make it easier to read, improve your concentration, speed, and comprehension?
This is the assertion of the creators of Bionic Readingan application that revises texts so that the most concise parts of words are “highlighted”.
According to the creators of the application, this encourages the eyes to focus on the important parts of the text. Because “your brain reads faster than your eyes”, it allows users to read faster and more efficiently.
Early users raved about the app on social media – including some users with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. But as a school psychologist who researches reading in print and digital media, I think the hype is overblown – if not misleading.
On the Bionic Reading Site, the inventor, a typographer named Renato Casutt, explains that the bionic reading was independently tested on 12 participants. He adds that it has not been explicitly tested on people with dyslexia.
He goes on to write that “the results are unclear”. From there, Casutt says the bionic reading had a positive effect for most participants, but others found it “disturbing.”
These tests do not follow standard scientific practices. A sample size of 12 is extraordinarily small, and highly unlikely to pass an editor’s desk for peer review in a reputable journal. Casutt does not tell readers what “positive effect” refers to. Was it reading time? Understanding? Enjoyment?
The Conversation reached out to Bionic Reading for clarity and to better understand their methodology. The company did not respond.
The company’s website claim that “the brain reads faster than the eye” is also deeply flawed.
It may be a reference to sight words: When a person learns to read, they normally have many words that they can make sense of by simple recognition, rather than by breaking the word down into individual syllables or sounds. These sight words often appear at a higher frequency in texts at all reading levels.
Either way, what makes reading “slow” isn’t due to an inability to quickly perceive the words themselves – which Bionic Reading claims to fix.
Instead, reading takes as long as it takes due to language processingwhere our brain transforms strings of letters into words and a series of words into meaning.
So no matter how quickly you recognize certain words, your brain still has to do the work to figure out the sentence.
Speed has a cost
This isn’t the first time someone has tried to introduce ways to read text faster. In fact, educators used to teach speed reading in the 1980s.
However, this method has disappeared from programs because research has shown that faster is not always better – and the techniques don’t even lead to faster reading in most cases.
Bionic reading can even confuse readers. Take into account speed-accuracy trade-offwhich theorizes that the faster you do something, the worse the performance.
My colleagues and I tested this theory for reading comprehension in print and digital media. We have found, time after timewhether in print or on screen, the faster someone reads a text, the less likely they were to understand it.
When people read fast, they interact with the text on a more superficial leveloften skipping sentences or entire paragraphs and failing to proofread important parts of the text.
To help struggling readers, especially those with dyslexia and ADHD, research suggests that one of the most helpful tools may simply be to encourage slower reading.
This is the antithesis of the Bionic Reading argument. However, unlike bionic reading, the “slower reading” school of thought has decades of research supporting him.
Other simple steps, such as track with your finger or computer mousecan also be useful for people with reading difficulties.
I can understand the appeal of bionic reading. Information bombards us. Sources of distraction are everywhere. But reading proficiency scores were dropping to new lows even before the pandemic. Now is not the time to value speed over understanding.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Lauren M. Singer Trakhman, Assistant Clinical Professor in Human Development, University of Marylandand republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.