Bionic reading doesn't help you read faster

Published January 11, 2024


Hello!

A few posts ago, I read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series again and timed how long I took to read each one. By reading 4 of them on my computer and 1 in physical form, I accidentally ran an experiment comparing my reading speed on screens vs. on paper (results here).

Today I have some more results, this time regarding the nu-age speed-reading technique called "Bionic Reading". I have read the first two books of the next Olympians series by Rick Riordan, one with Bionic Reading and one without.


Inspiration

Looking at the graphs of my reading speed from the previous post, I find it amazing how close the reading speeds are for each book. While I think I read at a fairly consistent rate, Rick Riordan must also target a word count, and the vocab level must be held consistent across each one. To me, this ability to write series of books around the same character or universe with an audience that stays invested seems like a staple of young-adult / teenage fiction. Or maybe just for entertainment novels? I'm thinking of

  • Warriors series (8 series of 6 books each)
  • Percy Jackson-ish stuff (3 series of 5 books about Greco-Roman pantheon, 3 books on Egyptian, 3 books on Norse)
  • Harry Potter (7 book main series)
  • Skulduggery Pleasant (currently on 3rd series, 16 books total)

Anyway, this consistency is great for us. It means we can treat each book as approximately the same as any other one, then use them to compare different reading techniques!

Today's intervention: Bionic Reading

Bionic Reading is this cool hip new technique where the first half of each word in a text is bolded. Since we read text in saccades, the inventor(s) believe that bolding the first, anchor part of a word would help people read text faster by allowing the eye to lock onto the next word more quickly.

Example of Bionic Reading text

Example of Bionic Reading text

As far as I can remember, this was marketed to me as a way of reading better suited for ADHD / neuro-diverse people, a sort of salesman's trick like Irlen filters that supposedly speeds up reading rates in return for money (backed by science!).

But whatever, I love running experiments, especially tiny ones.

Experimental setup

Rick Riordan's 2nd Greco-Roman fantasy series is also 5 books long, features characters from the first series, and has similar average length (~120k words/book vs. ~85k). The first book I read normally, as a book file converted to HTML. Here is what it looks like:

The second book I read using a Chrome extension called JiffyReader, which bolds the first half of each word in the text, making it "Bionified". Here's what it looks like now:

My process was a bit convoluted because the real Bionic Reader converter 1) costs money and 2) doesn't preserve the format, which definitely affects reading speed.

Results & Discussion

Here are my reading speeds for the first two books. The left is read normally, the right is read with Bionic text. Yada yada small sample size, can't draw statistically whatever conclusions, etc.

Bionic Reading felt the same to me as normal reading after 10 pages, I did not feel less eye fatigue, nor did I read faster subjectively or objectively. I'm pretty sure this is a gimmick.


Extras

Also the website is awful (I'm not strawmanning, it's unrelated), check it out:


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