Reading About Reading

Dante Alighieri

Not to be a nerd, but one of my favorite hobbies is reading. I can thank my father for my love of reading; he thought it was one of the most important necessities of life (besides breathing). I was never without books in my room, and surprisingly I never remember hating it. Reading, in my opinion, is a fundamental access knowledge; besides, none of us know much of anything unless we are able to read and garner information about what we are eager to understand. We read everyday, whether it be a menu or the name of an academic building here on the UMW campus. I can assume that most of you are actively reading this right now to further explore what I have to say on a particular cognitive phenomenon. Reading is almost automatic, and you can do it without doing much thinking. How do our minds process words, which are composed of an array of different letters, and form sentences that we are then able to comprehend and understand? 

As I have come to find out, there is great cognitive debate as to whether reading is a serial or parallel process. While reading this post, are you able to process more than one word at a time? If not, do you think you could even be capable of this task? One interesting study I found says that reading two words at one time is impossible. While it is entirely possible for our eyes to visually place all the words on a page, we are not able to process more than one word at a time. In a study conducted by Alex L. White, he and his research team found that the research participants were able to acknowledge that two words were displayed on a screen in front of them, but the participants were unable to actually read and garner information from the words at the same time (this was measured with high-tech eye movement stuff). This would point to our minds as serial processors when it comes to reading, but this is not entirely the truth! While the way we process individual words might be in favor of the serial process theory, White also acknowledged that “parallel processing may be more likely when pairs of words are related to each other and form phrases” (Alex L White, John Palmer & Geoffrey M. Boynton). 

After this explanation, it might seem to be a sort of “no-brainer,” but why is it important to cognitively explore how humans read? The foundations of cognitive psychology are rooted in how we perceive, understand, and process information. Reading contains all of these things functions. It is truly interesting that we are able to read out loud or in our heads (something else I would really like to explore), but it is even more interesting that all of these words are formed in such a manner that makes them comprehensible. Reading is something we hardly think about, but something we do constantly. So, the next time you’re reading for class or for leisure, try to pinpoint how you cognitively process words, sentences, and paragraphs.

Kaitlyn OwnbeyFreud

file:///Users/shatteringteacups/Downloads/WhitePalmerBoynton17_Preprint.pdf (This is a weird link. The study is a PDF, so if you Google “You can’t read two words at once,” the first link to pop up is this study in particular). 

1 thought on “Reading About Reading

  1. mhart2402

    Reading definitely doesn’t make you a nerd, but even if it does you should embrace it. My dad, like yours, expressed the importance of reading and imparted it onto me when I was very young. Even at his age, he still tries to read several books a month! I really do wish I had his dedication and am disappointed that I don’t sit down and read as much as I used to.

    As for how I process reading, I’m a speed reader and can still somehow actively recall a lot of information from things that I read. The exception to this are instructional books or college textbooks, because they are very dry and often filled with so much jargon that it makes them a slog to read more than an enjoyable adventure. I struggle the most to recall information when it comes from anything educational, but you can ask me the members of House Do’Urden from R.A. Salvatore’s “Forgotten Realms” series about Drizzt Do’Urden and I’d likely be able to tell you all the key members of their family sooner than I could ever tell you anything about positive and negative skewness or kurtosis.

    I feel like I can process more than one word at a time, though? I’m not really sure what that really entails but I just… I just feel like I read so fast and my eyes dart across the page in what people call “skimming,” but I still manage to soak up a lot of information and can recite a decent majority of it later from memory, especially if it’s very engaging.

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