According to a significant study, speed-reading apps may impair reading comprehension by limiting the user's ability to backtrack.
The study finds that eye movements we make during reading actually play a critical role in our ability to understand what we have just read. Eye movements were found to be a crucial part of the reading process.
"Our ability to control the timing and sequence of how we take information about the text is important for comprehension. Our brains control how our eyes move through the text - ensuring that we get the right information at the right time," explained psychological scientist Elizabeth Schotter from University of California, San Diego.
To reach this conclusion, Schotter and her colleagues Keith Rayner and Randy Tran examined the role that eye movements play in the reading process.
Studies have shown that readers make regressions, moving their eyes back to re-read bits of text, about 10 to 15 percent of the time.
Schotter and colleagues tested the hypothesis that these regressions could be a fundamental component of reading comprehension.
The researchers instructed 40 college students to read sentences (displayed on a computer screen) for comprehension.
Sometimes the sentences were presented normally; other times, the sentences were presented such that a word was masked with Xs as soon as the participants moved their eyes away from it.
The results showed that during normal reading, comprehension levels were about the same whether the students did or did not make a regression.
But, when the researchers compared data from the normal sentences and the masked sentences, they found that the students showed impaired comprehension for the masked sentences, presumably because they were not able to re-read when it would have been helpful.
"When readers cannot backtrack and get more information from words and phrases, their comprehension of the text is impaired," Schotter explained.
The study has ramifications for apps like Spritz that minimise eye movements and limit the amount of control readers have over the sequence of reading.
The research has been published in the journal Psychological Science.