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Not So Fast: Speed-Reading App Fails To Convince Experts

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A new Web app that promises vast increases in reading speed has been making the rounds in social media and tech news. But experts in the field say that the technique not only doesn't work, it didn't work when it was first proposed, either — more than 40 years ago.

Spritz presents text in a little box in which the words you are to read appear — but instead of scrolling through at a fast rate, they show up directly where you're looking in quick succession, like a strobe flashing words at you. It's called "rapid serial visual presentation," or RSVP.

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  Spritz

The company claims that by removing the need for your eyes to move during reading, the app can raise your reading speed from the average 250 words per minute to a blazing-fast 500 or more.

But when we spoke to experts in the field, they were skeptical.

"It's been around for a long, long time," said University of California San Diego psychology professor Keith Rayner in a phone interview. "I think there was even a paper in the '60s."

The results, including those from Rayner's own research, were never promising.

"The main finding was this," Rayner continued. "If you have people reading in this RSVP method, they can read sentences one at a time. If you give them longer passages, comprehension goes to pieces."

The University of Victoria's Michael Masson, another psychologist who has studied RSVP and reading comprehension, concurred.

"Put simply, comprehension takes time," he wrote in an email to NBC News. "There are barriers regarding how rapidly words can be identified and how rapidly the corresponding concepts can be assembled into meaningful propositions."

Masson did a study back in 1983 comparing RSVP to ordinary skimming. The findings: "Performance was better when skimming than when reading with RSVP."

For reading a headline or quick summary, Spritz and RSVP might be fine. But anything more than that is probably going to go, so to speak, in one ear and out the other.

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