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The Science Behind MagnaFlyer

The Science Behind the MagnaFlyer Display


The Development of a Reading Technology Optimized for Low Vision


Studies have shown that we are capable of reading many times faster than our current average speed. The Cinetext Display Software was developed from more than 10 years of research to incorporate the results of these studies into a tool for onscreen reading. It's unique display provides a additional benefit for low vision reading. The MagnaFlyer display is based on the Cinetext software engine.



Below: What they discovered in the lab about how the mechanics of reading slows us down and why MagnaFlyer works so efficiently to help overcome these barriers.




The Search for Reading Speed


It was nearly 20 years ago when Johns Hopkins University began to investigate the process of reading. The goal of the research was to specifically identify the barriers to reading speed and then find ways to enhance the reading experience to overcome the inherent difficulties. The not so simple question was, "why can't we read faster?".


For most people, reading is something we do every single day. We get a lot of practice, and like anything else we practice, we should theoretically get faster and better at it. Yet if you ask most people, they'll probably tell you that they think they're slow readers. If you asked them if they read significantly faster then they did in junior high, they'd probably say not much. True, the vocabulary is bigger, they know more techniques, but what they're really saying is that it still seems to take a lot of time and effort to get the information they need from the written word into their brain. The truth is that humans have been reading the same way for more than 5,000 years. In all that time there has been with very little advancement in our ability to get more information in less time. At some point with conventional reading methods, we hit a wall when it comes to reading faster. There have been lots of courses designed to overcome the speed limitations through teaching reading discipline. They may be effective but require diligence on the part of the reader. The truth is that most "speed readers" don't keep it up in real life. Because there's a significant trade-off involved; you have to exert more labor for higher speed. At the heart of the MagnaFlyer program lies the Cinetext Display Engine. It's a computer application built upon the findings of years of research designed to do the reading work for you while accelerating your reading speed.

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What Limits Our Reading Speed: The Results From the Research

What are the factors that limit our reading speed? After considerable experimental evidence, the researchers concluded that the barriers to reading speed weren't in the human ability to process information but rather, in the mechanics of the method we use get the written information from the "page" to our brains. Their solution? By using technology, they simply altered the method of displaying the text to accommodate their findings. The result? The subjects were able to consistently read and comprehend 1600 words per minute! That's nearly 8 times the average reading speed. What was this new method? In effect they made the text into a movie and projected on a screen. By displaying the words one at a time in sequence, in the center of the visual field at a very high rate of speed, the subjects were able to accelerate their reading speed to many times their previous average. They did it without training of any sort. They simply sat back and "watched" the words. Their brains did the rest.


This came to be called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). What it showed, was that it didn't matter how we get the words to the brain, the brain would process the information and comprehend it. The way we actually read the word didn't matter. Reading speed was actually directly related to how fast we we were able to see the words. Even at 1600 words per minute, our brains have no trouble keeping up and comprehending.


The Cinetext Display Engine: The Practical Application of Clinical Research

Cinetext is the result of more than 10 years of research and development at SoftOlogy IdeaWorks to adapt these principles and create a software for enabling the computer to assist the reading process. In fact, the reading option that Cinetext offers couldn't have existed before the advent of the computer. Until recently, you really no choice in the reading process. You were forced to read the way our ancestors did. The Cinetext software gives you the option when you're onscreen, of reading in the traditional document view or of having the computer accelerate your reading speed for you. The choice is yours. The goal of development for the Cinetext software was simple. To create an application to do what all computer applications do, make an everyday task easier for you.

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The Cinetext Difference:The Rhythm of Language

In addition to applying this research to everyday reading tasks, Cinetext invented a breakthrough concept; the patented "Human Cadence"™ technology. This is a critical advance in using the computer for accelerating reading speed in daily use. As you use Cinetext you will notice a cadence or rhythm of the display of the words. This display is carefully modulated to "time" the words so they are displayed in the rhythms of human speech. This makes comprehension easy, comfortable and natural even at very high speeds. As you'll see below, humans are "hard-wired" from birth to understand speech. And even before we understand words themselves, the rhythm of language is highly significant to our understanding of the context of what's being said.


Average Reading Speed

Average reading speed on paper: Between 150-250 words per minute
Average reading speed on a computer (with scrolling): 100-130 words per minute
Average reading speed on a hand held or mobile device: 40 words per minute


The Barriers to Reading Speed: Eye Movement and Sounding Out

In the Hopkins research they discovered that there were 2 primary factors slowing down your reading.


  • The mechanical work of moving your eyes from word to word across a page
  • "Sounding Out" the words in your head as you read

(NOTE: When reading on-screen, there is also another significant impediment to high reading speed: losing your place while scrolling)

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Eye Movement and Scanning: The Laborious Trek Across the Page

Even though you may not be aware of it, when you read across a page, here's what's really going on:

    The Mechanics of Reading: Eye Movement Step by Step.
  • First you have to find the word you're looking for. This means that the eye muscles have to work to move the eye into the approximate position of the word.
  • Because the eye is moving, the optic nerve has to shut down momentarily (otherwise we'd see the world as a continuous blur)
  • When we stop moving our eye at the desired place and the optic nerve opens the path way to the visual cortex
  • Then like a camera, we have to focus our eyes on the word to read it
  • Then the process starts all over again, we move our eye to the next word, closing the optic nerve etc. and on and on

If we looked at it in slow motion we'd see a constant process of moving, adjusting, and focusing our eyes for each word we read. Word after word after word. No wonder reading is a laborious process. Much slower that our brains ability to process the information. What they discovered at Hopkins was that by placing words in the center of the field of vision (the way we see the rest of the world), reading speed was dramatically accelerated because the tracking and focusing process was eliminated.


Sounding Out as We Read: A Left-Over from Childhood

Science has known for more than 50 years that humans are "hard-wired" for speech. No one has to teach us how to talk, it's easy for us and we learn it naturally. In fact in a Study conducted at Dartmouth (Scientific American, Aug. 2002) babies between the age of 5 and 12 mos. showed that babbling (versus non-babbling like "ahh") is a deliberate activity, taking place in the language centers of the brain and the baby is, even at that early age, already on the path to speech. This means that we have no difficulty learning to speak. But reading is another matter altogether.


For most of us, we initially learn to read by matching a spoken word to the symbol representing it on the page. For instance a parent says "cat" and points to the word in a book. After enough repetitions we recognize the symbol for cat and associate it with a small furry thing that purrs. Later, other words are added to our vocabulary by learning to "sound out" the word. First we see the symbol and then decode it phonologically to "hear it" and then associate it with object it represents. In other words reading is still intimately associated with talking and listening. In the reading process, we are going through two significant steps to get meaning from the symbol. We see the symbol and then we associate the symbol with a VERBAL representation of the object. This "sounding out" is the other element that dramatically slows down our reading. Because, long after we're past the decoding stage of learning to read, we still continue to "see and say" the words silently to ourselves out of habit from childhood.


This two-stage process is unnecessary. Clearly, once we know what the symbol looks like and what it means, we no longer need to verbalize it to understand it. For instance, when you approach a "STOP" sign you don't need to say "STOP" in your head. Hopefully you just put on the brakes. In other words, once you can recognize a word and know what it means then it's simply a visual symbol. Like the octagon shape of the stop sign or the stick figure on the rest room door, we process it instantly without saying a word to ourselves. In fact we can recognize and process visual symbols much, much faster than we can speak. So, saying each word to yourself as you read unnecessarily slows your reading down to the pace of talking.


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The Physiology of Reading: How the Brain Reads.

The recent developments in brain scanning machines have provided an entirely new set of powerful tools for mapping brain activity. Brain scans allowed researchers to see the brain activity of subjects while they were actually reading. This generated a wealth of valuable information for the Hopkins researchers. The question was how this "movie like" display of words seemed to be so effective for accelerating reading speed. The answer became visible with brain scans. It comes down to where in the brain reading was processed. It turned out that reading in the traditional manner was processed in different regions of the brain than the RSVP display.


Reading is a complex activity involving a number of components, activating different parts of the brain. The two regions of the brain primarily responsible for processing language and which have been intimately associated with reading are called Broca's Area and Wernicke's Area. Reading has been around only a relatively short time and so our brains haven't evolved any special tricks for dealing with it. We are however, highly evolved for speech. In the architecture of the brain, Broca's Area and Wernicke's Area are for the most part devoted to using and understanding spoken language. When it comes to reading, it's really not their job but they serve "double duty" and do the best they can. Brain scans show that conventional reading "lights up" these areas as language goes from reading to self-verbalization to meaning. (Our sounding out process). This makes perfect sense because we're translating the written word into spoken language in our heads. Speech is processed through Broca and Wernicke. So in effect, "we're reading with our ears".


However, when the high speed text was displayed in the Hopkins study, brain scans showed that it was lighting up a completely different area of the brain, one that is ideally suited for processing visual stimulation. It lit up the Visual Cortex. So now the subjects were reading with their eyes, passing information directly from the visual world along the optic nerve to the brain for processing without resorting to a "verbal middleman". We simply need to see the symbol and we respond to that information directly.


The Patented Human Cadence™ Technology: The Difference is in the Rhythm.

In standard RSVP there is no cadence applied to the display of the text. In effect, the duration of each word and the pause between them is the same. The experience is kind of like a machine gun rat-a-tatting words at you. While this increases speed in the short run, it is visually and mentally tiring and difficult to maintain. For the promise of this powerful speed advantage to be of practical use in the real world, the experience had to become much more comfortable and natural. For this, SoftOlogy IdeaWorks looked to the natural human ability to process speech. What makes human speech fundamentally different from the robotic? The answer is rhythm.


All human language employs cadence to add meaning, emphasis and phrasing to the actual words. The duration of words and the pauses between them become an important component in communication. Cinetext adds to the display of text on a screen the dimension of natural pacing with it's patented Human Cadence™ technology.


In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in December of 2000. It was reported that an area of the brain (plenum temporale) originally thought to be exclusively used for processing sound was active in profoundly deaf people. This led to the conclusion that the cells in this region actually are capable of responding to the patterns of natural language in any form. In the case the of those who suffer hearing loss this included the visual rhythm of sign language. In other words, we evolved a specific area of the brain associated with the rhythm of speech, no matter if it is auditory or visual. That's how important the rhythm of language is to our understanding of it.


It took SoftOlogy IdeaWorks more than two years of development and refinement to arrive at a way for the content of the material to actually control the cadence of the words you were reading. In other words with Cinetext, "what your are reading actually controls the rhythm of how you're reading it". This adds a tremendous amount of informational value so you can comprehend in a natural fashion no matter how fast you're reading.

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In an article in the LA Times it was stated that "...reading is one of the most unnatural things we do on a daily basis, it just doesn't fit the model of how our brain works." For anyone who struggles with reading speed that certainly seems to ring true.


The research at Johns Hopkins and other institutions has shown that the barriers to reading speed aren't in the processing of written language but in limitations in how we receive the information. This determines which part of our brain processes it. Our brain is organized to treat visual stimuli differently than spoken language. That's the way we've divided sensory experience over the eons of our development. Traditional reading lies somewhere in the middle and calls upon areas of the brain that weren't really designed to process written information. The data shows that when we process written words as symbols in the visual cortex it is far faster and more efficient. But it took the creation of new display technology to make that a reality.


It's not surprising that Cinetext works so effectively to multiply reading speed while maintaining comprehension. The underlying reasons are evident in what we now know about the architecture of the human brain. Cinetext was created to be a practical application built upon those findings. It took the advent of the computer to finally make this kind of reading option a possibility for everyday life. Now you have a choice about how and how fast you want to read.

Cinetext is easy to use, integrates with the software most widely used for accessing electronic text and delivers that content to the reader in a way that is consistent with achieving high reading speeds.

Additional Reading

Vision Research
Volume 32, Issue 5, May 1992, Pages 895-902


Reading without saccadic eye movements

Gary S. Rubin* and Kathleen Turano*

*Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, U.S.A.

To assess the limitation on reading speed imposed by saccadic eye movements, we measured reading speed in 13 normally-sighted observers using two modes of text presentations: PAGE text which presents an entire passage conventionally in static, paragraph format, and rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) which presents text sequentially, one word at a time at the same location in the visual field. In Expt 1, subjects read PAGE and RSVP text orally across a wide range of letter sizes (2X to 32X single-letter acuity) and reading speed was computed from the number of correct words read per minute.


Reading speeds were consistently faster for RSVP compared to PAGE text at all letter sizes tested. The average speeds for text of an intermediate letter size (8X acuity) were 1171 words/min for RSVP and 303 words/min for PAGE text. In Expt 2 subjects read PAGE and RSVP text silently and a multiple-choice comprehension test was administered after each passage.


All subjects continued to read RSVP text faster, and 6 subjects read at the maximum testable rate (1652 words/min) with at least 75% correct on the comprehension tests.


Experiment 3 assessed the minimum word exposure time required for decoding text using RSVP to minimize potential delays due to saccadic eye movement control. Successive words were presented for a fixed duration (word duration) with a blank interval (ISI) between words. The minimum word duration required for accurate oral reading averaged 69.4 msec and was not reduced by increasing ISI. We interpret these results as an indication that the programming and execution of saccadic eye movements impose an upper limit on conventional reading speed.


Keywords: Reading; Eye movements; Saccades


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Monica S. Castelhano, M.S., Muter P. (2001) Optimizing the reading of electronic text using rapid serial visual presentation.
Behaviour & Information Technology. Vol. 20, No. 4, 237-247

Aaronsn, D. and Colet, E., (1997) Reading paradigms: From lab to cyberspace?
Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 29 (2), 250-255 .



Reading paradigms: From lab to cyberspace?
Aaronsn, D. and Colet, E. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 29 (2), 250-255 .


...One of the most promising methods is called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). It was first used in the mid-1960s for rapidly displaying individual words, one at a time, in the center of a monitor's screen. Each new word replaced the old word. Users set the rate that the computer presented the words. This approach has demonstrated a capacity to substantially improve reading speed.


In the 1999 User Interface Update course (see below), the RSVP method is used to illustrate how quickly reading performance can be improved. In one class the average reading speed from a paper document... had a range from 143 to 540 words-per-minute. After determining the basic reading rate, the class members read material presented on the screen, one word at a time, at 600, then 800, then 1,000, then 1,300, and finally at 1,600 words-per-minute. After each set of reading material, the students answered multiple choice questions about the text.


The top reading speeds were as follows for measured comprehension scores of 75% or higher:

* 1,600 wpm --3 people
* 1,300 wpm --8 people
* 1,000 wpm --3 people
* 800 wpm --0 (nobody)
* 600 wpm --2 people

The average for the class was 1212 wpm, which is about 3.5 times faster than reading in the traditional way. There is no question that the computer can help improve reading performance; but it must be done in non-traditional ways.


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