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Science News

Method of Reading Discovered 181

Scientists have discovered that the method our eyes use to process letters on a page is different than previously believed. Instead of assimilating one letter at a time our eyes actually lock on to two different letters simultaneously about half the time. "The team's results demonstrated that both eyes lock on to the same letter 53% of the time; for 39% of the time they see different letters with uncrossed eyes; and for 8% of the time the eyes are crossing to focus on different letters. A follow-up experiment with the eye-tracking equipment showed that we only see one clear image when reading because our brain fuses the different images from our eyes together."
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Method of Reading Discovered

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  • by WiglyWorm ( 1139035 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:13PM (#20541089) Homepage
    Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

    In other words, this study was flawed in the first place. Our eyes don't look at individual letters, they look at groups at a time. I learned this in high school....

  • by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <<moc.xobreven> ... .vidavsxd54sals>> on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:17PM (#20541149) Homepage

    I could have sworn we knew this was where dyslexic came from, that you see two letters that don't end up in the right order in your head.

  • by natpoor ( 142801 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:18PM (#20541193) Homepage
    That's pretty cool, but what about non-alphabetic systems, such as Chinese, Japanese, or Korean? Does the physical act of reading depend at all on the unit of meaning we are scanning with our eyes? Not that the researchers should have done this in the same experiment, they're in England, so it makes sense for them to stick to the native language.
  • by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:19PM (#20541205) Homepage
    A_d y_t t___e e___a l_____s a_e i_______t.

    And yet those extra letters are important.

    Bt yu cn lv ot innr vwls and stll be mstly rdble.
  • by Dausha ( 546002 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:21PM (#20541243) Homepage
    I've known for about 20 years that we don't focus on one letter. There are numerous books that show that we (at least those using Latin alphabets) look at the shape of the top half of the word rather than each letter. All this does is break down literacy to crossing eyes, etc. Not really new.
  • by juuri ( 7678 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:24PM (#20541315) Homepage
    You remember all that, the letter order doesn't matter when reading bit? (http://www.languagehat.com/archives/000840.php for a refresher).

    It's always seemed pretty apparent to me that we don't reach letters in "correct order" by focusing only on a single one at a time. If that were the case things like speed-reading and scanning for content would be nearly impossible. Outside confirmation of this is nice however.

    The real question is how much redundancy can we remove from printed words for faster information dispersal while still expressing things clearly. Sure, having everything spelled correctly and in long form is great for books for pleasure (art) but do we really need it for basic information sharing? Especially if doing so increases the time spent needlessly?

  • by Dhrakar ( 32366 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:25PM (#20541337)
    Very interesting. I wonder if this could be a contributing factor to why folks get headaches when reading on some computer screens. That is, computers, unlike books, are constantly redrawing the screen so not all of the letters may actually be visible very well at any one time. Your brain starts straining because it can't scan multiple letters (or entire words?) very well due to the flicker. Do eletronic book readers have a high refresh rate?
  • Dyslexia (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @01:43PM (#20541683) Journal
    The article only touches on this (last word in the entire story), but this should have ramifications in studying and treating dyslexia. At first glance, it would seem very strange how people could suffer from dyslexia. Why would they perceive pairs of letters and numbers as flipped, if we read in a serial fashion? If both eyes aren't even looking at the same letter then the physiology begins to make more sense - somewhere along the way the information isn't being assembled in the proper order.

    Dan East
  • Re:Frsit Psot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Paradise Pete ( 33184 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:00PM (#20541953) Journal
    Wow, I actually read that pretty easily.

    Yaeh, it's prttey amaizng taht as lnog as the begnning and the enidng of the wrod are coerrct taht you can raed it at alomst full speed.

  • Re:Fusing images (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:22PM (#20542249)
    I'm glad you put quotes around 'see' there - it sums things up nicely. The datamodel we experience when reading contains lots of interlocking sensory cues. A simple concept, such as the word 'cow', may trigger a visual image of a cow, the sound of the spoken word cow, or for some rare people, even a smell cue. Sometimes a reader may become aware of a related sensory or logical image, i.e. first thinking of the sound of the word 'cow' may trigger the brain recalling the sound a cow makes and adding that to the mental 'picture'. And just as 'cow' can trigger 'moo', some readers may approach it from the opposite direction, activating the sound 'cow' after they have first added the sound 'moo' to their active model.
          It's very hard to put these sorts of brain actions into temporal order though. The brain may report that you thought of several related concepts in a particular order, but introspection often lies. Foe two examples that relate to this story, when you blink, the brain seems to distort your time sense so you are not aware of how long a blink really takes, and a blink 'feels' like there was zero time with the eyes fully closed, and if you look into a mirror, and shift your visual focus back and forth from one eye to the other, the brain edits out the movement, so normally, you are aware of looking into one eye, then the other, but you don't notice your gaze passing across the bridge of your nose in between. With deliberate practice, people can become aware of these 'self-editing' experiences, but most of us are routinely tricked by our own brains this way.
          One of the big tricks some high level martial arts teaches (but usually not until you are pretty damned far along), is that the strike that just hit the opponent (Poww!!) right in the left kidney, was launched exactly as their eyelids reached closed position, and they missed seeing the first 200/1,000'ths of a second of the blow coming. If they had trained enough, their response would have been automatic, directed by a part of the brain not subject to this editing, and that wouldn't have worked.
  • Re:Frsit Psot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cp.tar ( 871488 ) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:26PM (#20542311) Journal

    I recently got a book on speed-reading.

    One of those "as seen on TV" type.

    I thought I'd give it a try, if only to see what I'm doing wrong.

    Then I found out I could have written that book: it only teaches lousy readers stuff people who have had enough reading practice learned by themselves.

    One of the first things in the book is testing your own reading speed. And the book says an average American should score about 200-250 words per minute, as calculated by the provided formula.

    So I tested myself. And since the book's in English, I tested myself in English, which is not my native tongue.

    I scored 453 wpm. On a completely unfamiliar English text.

    Anyway, one of the first and easiest techniques described in the book was reading more than one letter at a time. Gee, thanks; I learned that when I was what, four?

    So unless they conducted the study on first-graders, I'd say it's practically useless. Good readers focus on whole words, subliminally recognizing their shapes. That's why I can spot a spelling mistake in a text I'm not even reading - I just spot an odd, unfamiliar, "wrong" shape (at least in Croatian; English still takes a tiny little bit of conscious effort).

    BTW, I'm so very disappointed in the survey for one more reason: I'd thought its results would help the development of OCR, but I guess that was too much to expect.

  • by someme2 ( 670523 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:35PM (#20542437)

    That's pretty cool, but what about non-alphabetic systems, such as Chinese, Japanese, or Korean?

    Korean (Hangul) is an alphabetic system. The study might be really interesting there because Korean letters are always aggregated in blocks of two or three letters. It's part of the way they write. I have no idea if Koreans read these blocks as one.
    It's also a cool system because it was designed from scratch and follows a number of logical rules that makes it comparatively easy to learn (the alphabet... not the language). You can learn reading basic Hangul while on the plane to Korea.
    The wikipedia article is quite good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Frsit Psot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by siriuskase ( 679431 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:43PM (#20542583) Homepage Journal
    I only slowed down for one word, "oghirutt", and I still don't know what that one is since I refuse to think about it. The rest was straightforward, as long as the word shape doesn't change much.

    Maybe my memory is bad, but didn't scientists use to think we read the whole word at the same time, unless it was unusallly long and unfamiliar? In which case, we read it a syllable at a time. Reading skill was measured more or less in how many syllables one could ingest at the same time.

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