This 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology used functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) to examine if speed reading training affects the functional architecture of neural networks involved in reading in 9 participants selected for the speed reading training.
A central premise of speed reading proponents is that subvocalization significantly slows down reading and that there are more efficient ways to read without the need of subvocalization; it is not necessary to cognitively voice words as one reads them in order to understand them. Subvocalization is a consequence of learning how to read phonetically, or sounding out strings of words in the brain. A typical example of reading something without subvocalization is reading a stop sign without cognitively sounding out the syllables. When someone relies on subvocalization as a primary method of reading, their reading speed is limited to their maximum talking speed. Reduction or elimination of subvocalization in favor of direct semantic processing from visual cues (instead of semantically processing subvocalized phonological cues) represents reduced cognitive load and faster reading.
By measuring detectable changes in functional connectivity in brain regions associated with language via neuroimaging, the researchers found that the participants disassociated the visual input of orthographic word representations from internalized voicing and subvocalization of text while the text is being read after the speed reading training. Furthermore, reading speed measured in words per minute increased at a statistically significant level.
The researchers recruited 9 participants with comparable reading proficiency and completed initial and follow-up MRI scans before and after performing the 6-week internet-based speed reading training program. EyeQ Advantage based in Salt Lake City provided the program, which consisted of 12 modules designed to facilitate progressively faster reading speed and increased comprehension. Each training exercise lasted ten minutes and participants performed many modules multiple times, with training sessions 3 to 5 times a week. Some of the exercises consisted of reading passages at slow, medium, and fast presentation speeds as well as following a sequence of geometric images around the screen.
|Reading speed (words per minute) pre versus post training (p = .0021 for differences between reading speed pre versus post training).|
Unfortunately the research makes no reference to the importance of sustaining a satisfactory reading comprehension level when increasing reading speed nor does the research make a reference to measuring comprehension pre versus post training. An increase in reading speed from 200 words per minute to 800 words per minute is not impressive if reading comprehension suffers. The research does provide evidence that speed reading training reduces or eliminates subvocalization using neuroimaging techniques. Subvocalization is one of the obstacles to reading faster identified by proponents of speed reading programs. Generalizability of findings to the general population could be an issue because of the small sample size of 9.
Ferguson, M., Nielsen, J. and Anderson, J. (2014). Altered resting functional connectivity of expressive language regions after speed reading training. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 36(5), pp.482-493.