Speed-reading apps are great for speed and terrible for reading, study finds

You’ll get through them all, but won’t remember a darn thing.
You’ll get through them all, but won’t remember a darn thing.
Image: Flickr/UGL_UIUC
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Speed reading apps like Spritz are a nifty way to plow through text at a breakneck pace, but they’re not perfect. Such apps might rob you of your comprehension, according to new research (paywall).

In a study by University of California-San Diego’s Rayner Eyetracking Lab, psychologists replicated what they saw as Spritz’s biggest flaw. The app flashes words one by one, centered on the same point. This, the app’s creators say, allows you to read at maximum speeds: You don’t even have to waste time moving your eyeballs.

But post-doctoral psychology researcher Elizabeth Schotter and her colleagues say this system could pose a problem for readers. When an app displays one word at a time (and then takes it away), readers can’t reread text as they move on to the following word. These quick, unconscious re-readings—called “regressions”—help you understand text, the psychologists wrote.

To be fair, the study participants didn’t use an app like Spritz in the lab. Instead, researchers let them read a sentence normally, but sometimes hid words as soon as readers looked to the next one. Sure enough, reading comprehension went down when readers couldn’t look back to a previous word for clarification.

So no, you shouldn’t try to read War and Peace at 500 words per minute. But Spritz is still a great idea for smartwatches: Tiny screens (like the sleek Samsung Gear Fit, for example) will need a text-reading solution. For text messages and simple emails, a speed reader shouldn’t cause a comprehension problem, even if more nuanced language might be better absorbed the traditional way.