Dr. Grossi's Blog

Spaced-Out Reading

Dr. Philip Grossi
Sunday, 29 August 2010

Often individuals enter the office with complaints of poor concentration and especially of inability to concentrate on written material.  Not surprisingly, these are mostly young people who are students.  They have often taken online tests and read a variety of materials leading them to the conclusion that they have AHDH.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.  Persuading them that they don't or that they may have some other disorder is often taxing and unsuccessful especially if I won't  medicate them as they wished.

illustration to spaced out reading blogIn the 2 August  2010 issue of Psychological Science, Reichle and colleagues have published an article entitled  "Eye Movements During Mindless Reading."  What I have called "spaced-out reading" they call mindless reading,  Rayner & Fischer have earlier called "daydream mode reading."  The eyes move across the text but nothing is comprehended and something else occupies the mind. This is a common but poorly understood phenomena.

Reichle et.al. paid four native English speaking undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh and paid them $7 per hour with a $20 bonus for completing the task which was to read the entirety of Jane Austen's  Sense and Sensibility  while their eye gaze was monitored by an EyeLink 1000 eye tracker.  The 1811 novel consists of 50 chapters and comprehension was measured by 4 multiple choice questions following each chapter.  Fixation-duration measures were collected during normal reading and during self-caught and probe-caught mindless reading.  The fixation-duration lengths were longer in mindless reading. They also found that eye movements before self-caught mind wandering (usually after 1-2 minutes) were especially erratic.  The authors found that when individuals were reading attentively, their eye movements were more likely to be sensitive to such parameters as word length, other lexical qualities, and linguistic variables.

The above findings support the idea that eye movements become uncoupled during mindless reading and that eye movements during normal reading are under some type of cognitive control.  They also support the idea that eye movements can be used as reliable indicators of mind wandering.  Whether some technology to address this common problem arises out of these findings remains to be seen.