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Reading is as Easy as a Hop, Skip, And a Jump

Being able to read is an enjoyable skill that usually begins to be taught between the ages of five and seven. Most people can recall what it was like in the early stages of reading. You start off slowly trying to pronounce and string the words together into one fluent sentence. As you progress you move on to more complex sentences and pretty soon you’re trying to read everything everywhere! It’s a skill you’ve become so comfortable with that you probably find yourself reading at a faster pace and only stumble on words that aren’t familiar. A common phrase used amongst students is “Oh, I just skimmed through it.” This phrase has lead to many psychological experiments that try and pinpoint how efficient we are at ‘skipping’ through sentences and our ability to fill in the missing content.

There are a couple of different models that explain the processes that occur while we read. One is called the EZ Reader model, which occurs when attention is fixated on one word and shifts to the next word in peripheral view. The ability to process the next word begins in advance because our attention is shifted even before the initial movement of the eye to the next word. Processing of the peripheral word is complete when they eye fully fixates on it. For example, when reading the sentence ‘Her name is Appalonia’ your able to process ‘Her name is’ quickly and as you reach the word ‘is’ your already trying to process ‘Appalonia.’ Grant it my name is irregular and unfamiliar, so you would have to slow down to process it fully. Skipping occurs when recognition of the peripheral word is immediate during peripheral preview. Our eyes then skip over the just recognized word to the next word to the right.

The SWIFT model is a parallel process where the resources we use to read reach full capacity when focused on a string of words, instead of a singular word. Instead of being fixated on one particular word, you would also be fixated on the adjacent words on the right and left. In total someone could process a total of four words at the same time. In this model, words that are highly predictable are skipped because their identity can be guessed with minimal visual input. This model depends heavily on context and the frequency of information.

In 2012 four psychologists named, Gordon, Patrick, Plummer, and Choi conducted an experiment to analyze if people skip over words that they’ve seen previously within the same passage.  They followed this question up with another, asking if people would be able to recognize a change in spelling in the word they keep skipping in the passage. An example of this would be, ‘Last week Cynthia and Lillian joined protests because Llilian wanted fair wages.’ Lillian is the target word and when it’s presented for the second time the spelling is slightly different. Participants were given forty passages and some had a change in spelling and some did not. This experiment is along the lines of the SWIFT model because word predictability increases skipping through a mix of guessing and minimal visual input.

The results from this experiment supported the hypothesis that the processing of single words, using visual recognition, is based on skipping. This finding only occurs when strings of letters in the peripheral view are recognized as complete words. As the target word becomes more familiar with the context, skipping will increase as the target comes into peripheral view. However, skipping doesn’t occur when the target word has a slight change in spelling. So in the example above, the word ‘Lillian’ would not have been skipped, because the reader would not have been able to process it fully. We are able to process that the word in our peripheral vision is not a word and that it demands more fixation to process fully.

Even though reading may seem like an effortless task you do everyday as a student, it actually requires a lot more than you think. Your eyes are constantly moving and your brain is busy processing. From this assignment I have learned that there isn’t really such a thing as skimming. My advice is next time you have an assignment for class and someone asks if you’ve done the reading, you should respond with “I skipped through it.”


PC Gordon, Patrick, Plummer, Wonil Choi, (2012), See before you jump: full recognition of parafoveal words precedes skips during reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition.10, 633-41.

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  1. aspencer
    November 10th, 2013 at 18:12 | #1

    When reading this I wondered about if skipping is done differently when people have learning differences like dyslexia. Would they be more or less susceptible to noticing the different spellings of Lillian? Maybe I was just “skipping” through the article poorly, but even though I felt that I was reading attentively, I did not notice the change in spelling until it was pointed out in the post. I wonder if this is common for dyslexics and how would might it be a hindrance or a benefit when reading?

  2. May 19th, 2013 at 21:48 | #2

    That’s an interesting thought Alice, I would hypothesis that Skipping proficiency would increase untill brain development stops (so long as reading is consistently pracicticed), and then would decline slowly till advanced age. Also I wonder if comprehension decreases with skimming. Arguably it could act exactly like speech comprehension and only chunks of information are stored; that being said I’ve definently been ‘Skipping’ before and and ened up skipping a bit too far and losing the train of information.

  3. May 19th, 2013 at 11:43 | #3

    I’m kind of wondering when individuals become the best at “skipping.” Perhaps researchers could have participants of all ages and education levels to reveal the best combination for the automatic process of reading. As we’ve learned in class, cognitive psychology has been developed through the errors that people make during experiments. It would be interesting to see how many mistakes or how long it takes people of different ages to “skip” through a reading but still maintain accurate comprehension.

  4. Karlyn Donovan
    May 18th, 2013 at 21:47 | #4

    Saying you “skipped” through the reading makes a lot more sense than “skimming” after reading this. I always thought that by skimming the readings I was saving myself from all the effort of actually reading and processing each word. It’s interesting that even with “skipping” I am using a lot of brain effort. I think it would be interesting to see if people “skipped” words that they are more familiar with, even if the spelling is off. For example, doing the study during a specific time of the year such as winter, and using words associated with winter (e.g. snow, cold, ice, etc.).

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