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If Your Eyes Are Exhausted, It Might Be the English Language’s Fault


From the invention of escalators to instant mac and cheese, humans are doing well in the war against expending energy, and we may just have crossed a new frontier: Boston-based start-up Spritz is releasing an app that promises to help users read faster by saving them the trouble of moving their eyes. The app streams words directly onto the screen, one at a time, using a technology called “rapid serial visual presentation.” The developers claims anyone can improve their reading speed and even work their way up to the top setting—1,000 words per minute.

It’s generating plenty of buzz, but experts don’t agree on whether the app is a gimmick or a revolution. Early adopters of speed-reading technology say it really can help you through mountains of text, but detractors worry about a tradeoff between reading speed and comprehension. Here are four things we do know about how your eyes move when you read the old-fashioned way.

English may be hard on the eyes

Readers of English have to move their eyes up to four times often as readers of Chinese: Each time you move your eye when you’re reading an English text, you take in an average of seven to nine characters, compared to only two in Chinese. The amount of words and information processed in each eye movement, though, is similar in both languages.

Elizabeth R. Schotter and Keith Rayner/Eyetracking in audiovisual translation

Your eyes don't always agree on which letters to look at

About 40 to 50 percent of the time you spend reading, your eyes are focused on different letters. That percentage tends to be greater for less experienced readers.

Your eyes dart around the page

On average, about 10 to 15 percent of eye movements aren’t left-to-right movements taking in new text, but are right-to-left movements going over text you missed or need to reread.

It's easier to process text on your right

When you look at a point on a page, you perceive about five times as many characters on the right of that point as on the left. According to psychologists Elizabeth Schotter and Keith Rayner, “Readers of English typically have a perceptual span comprising a region from 3–4 characters to the left of fixation and 14–15 characters to the right of fixation.”

Image via Shutterstock