Why Spritz Works: It’s All About the Alignment of Words
By Maik Maurer & Jamie Locke
February 16, 2014
To understand Spritz, you must understand Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). RSVP is a common speed-reading technique used today. However, RSVP was originally developed for psychological experiments to measure human reactions to content being read. When RSVP was created, there wasn’t much digital content and most people didn’t have access to it anyway. The internet didn’t even exist yet.
With traditional RSVP, words are displayed either left-aligned or centered. Figure 1 shows an example of a center-aligned RSVP, with a dashed line on the center axis.
When you read a word, your eyes naturally fixate at one point in that word, which visually triggers the brain to recognize the word and process its meaning. In Figure 1, the preferred fixation point (character) is indicated in red. In this figure, the Optimal Recognition Position (ORP) is different for each word. For example, the ORP is only in the middle of a 3-letter word. As the length of a word increases, the percentage that the ORP shifts to the left of center also increases. The longer the word, the farther to the left of center your eyes must move to locate the ORP.
Therein lies one of the biggest problems with traditional RSVP. Each time you see text that is not centered properly on the ORP position, your eyes naturally will look for the ORP to process the word and understand its meaning. This requisite eye movement creates a “saccade”, a physical eye movement caused by your eyes taking a split second to find the proper ORP for a word. Every saccade has a penalty in both time and comprehension, especially when you start to speed up reading. Some saccades are considered by your brain to be “normal” during reading, such as when you move your eye from left to right to go from one ORP position to the next ORP position while reading a book. Other saccades are not normal to your brain during reading, such as when you move your eyes right to left to spot an ORP. This eye movement is akin to trying to read a line of text backwards. In normal reading, you normally won’t saccade right-to-left unless you encounter a word that your brain doesn’t already know and you go back for another look; those saccades will increase based on the difficulty of the text being read and the percentage of words within it that you already know.
And the math doesn’t look good, either. If you determined the length of all the words in a given paragraph, you would see that, depending on the language you’re reading, there is a low (less than 15%) probability of two adjacent words being the same length and not requiring a saccade when they are shown to you one at a time. This means you move your eyes on a regular basis with traditional RSVP! In fact, you still move them with almost every word. In general, left-to-right saccades contribute to slower reading due to the increased travel time for the eyeballs, while right-to-left saccades are discombobulating for many people, especially at speed. It’s like reading a lot of text that contains words you don’t understand only you DO understand the words! The experience is frustrating to say the least.
In addition to saccading, another issue with RSVP is associated with “foveal vision,” the area in focus when you look at a sentence. This distance defines the number of letters on which your eyes can sharply focus as you read. Its companion is called “parafoveal vision” and refers to the area outside foveal vision that cannot be seen sharply.
Here is a simplified illustration:
Foveal and Parafoveal Focus
When you read normally, your brain is not only busy processing the words inside of your foveal vision as ORP positions are encountered, but also scans ahead for an indication of what is coming up from your parafoveal vision. During traditional reading, your brain takes cues based on the information it prefetches from your parafoveal vision to determine where to saccade your eyes to next in order to reach the next ORP based on the length of the words coming up. With RSVP methods, Spritz included, your brain cannot depend on parafoveal cues to tell your eyes where to jump to next. When your brain cannot use its parafoveal vision to help your eyes saccade to the next word, it starts over with every new word it encounters. Therefore, proper positioning that does not require eye movement is crucial to ‘helping’ your brain process words, especially at speed. Since your eyes do not need to move while spritzing, your brain quickly becomes comfortable with not needing the additional information from your parafoveal vision.
What does this all mean to you? For starters, it’s really very easy to learn to Spritz. Unlike other reading techniques, you don’t need to rewire your brain to work more efficiently. You’ll find that you will be able to inhale content when you regain the efficiencies associated with not moving your eyes to read. And you will no longer move your eyes in unnatural ways. If you’ve tried RSVP in the past and hated it for all the reasons above, we invite you to give Spritz a try. For more information, see The Science above.
Why Spritz Works (II): The Rhythm of Reading
By Maik Maurer & Jamie Locke
February 20, 2014
Building from our first post, “Why Spritz Works: It’s All About the Alignment of Words”, we bring you more information on the science behind spritzing.
When we started to develop Spritz, we showed people various English-language texts. While the results were positive, people expressed concern about how well Spritz would work with non-English languages that could transform small words into large words. German, for example, is notorious for having long words. Spritz handles these challenges adroitly by breaking up and displaying words in the way your brain expects them to be presented.
Another significant factor associated with comprehension is the time required to recognize and process each word as it is spritzed. Because processing times vary for different words, you might assume that the workaround would show long words for a longer amount of time.
In reality, since a word is recognized as one item, spritzing does not decode it character by character. Instead, spritzing decodes the word based on characteristics such as shape, form, and format. Our brain recognizes words as shapes. Consequently, if a word’s shape is easy to recognize (i.e., its shape is somewhat unique), the time required to process that word is fast. With this in mind, here’s where the way things actually work is counter-intuitive.
Because many short words are similar, their shape is not always easy to recognize. The words “met” and “net,” for example, are similar in shape and take a longer time for your brain to process than longer words, which have a higher probability of not being similar in shape to other words. In essence, the shorter the word, the more likely your brain will require additional processing to pinpoint exactly which word you are looking at. This requires longer processing times than it takes to process words with more characters.
Spritz takes into account that different words require different processing times. This contributes to superior comprehension when spritzing. So while spritzing slows down a bit when it encounters long words, significant improvements have been made over traditional reading in this area. Our research shows that words of 4-to-7 characters spritz through a display the fastest. Words of other lengths have an algorithmic slowing applied to them by Spritz that facilitates comprehension based on our exhaustive research.
Our research also shows that the way that you read a sentence controls the speed at which Spritz serves certain areas of content to you. Think of a sentence as a content container. Figuratively, humans store the words we read in temporary memory as we read them. When the sentence ends, usually at a punctuation point such as a period, our brain reassembles all of the words it has read and applies meaning to the sentence as a whole. The Spritz algorithm take this into consideration when rendering the Spritz stream.
In addition to word display times and the reconstruction of sentence meanings, the overall speed that you are spritzing is also a factor. You might think that the faster you Spritz, the more stressful reading becomes and the less you understand. That’s not true. Of course, if you Spritz at 1000 words per minute right away, you will have a hard time with the words being displayed.
Spritzing too slow is also very frustrating. Think about the news tickers you see at the bottom of some TV broadcasts. They usually are very slow. If you try reading the breaking news in these tickers, it can be very unpleasant because you get bored. In fact, we have recognized in user tests that text comprehension reaches highest values at the (individual) right speed.
As a result, spritzing is like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – you don’t want to go too slow or too fast. You want it to be just right. Spritzing should never feel uncomfortable or forced; otherwise, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t worry about deciding when to increase your spritzing speed. You’ll know when the time is right when your current speed starts to feel too slow.
In conclusion, what do these details about timing, pauses, and speed tell us? We need to establish the right reading rhythm to reach optimal comprehension and comfort. Spritz technology presets all of the basic parameters for each language (yes, there are big differences) and supports readers customizing their streaming experience. I would like to encourage you to find your own perfect settings for a great text-streaming experience.