Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)


When we read, we spend a lot of our time moving our eyes from one group of letters to the next. Such eye movements are called saccades (from the French word for jerk) and are typically very rapid. Typically, the eyes are still (fixated) for approximately 250 ms (it could be much less or much more depending on your familarity with the word and whether the word agrees with your expectations) and then followed by a saccade which can take another 20 to 30 ms. At first glance, it looks like most of the time is spent reading (~250 ms per fixation) compared to movement (~25 ms per saccade). But the story is not quite so simple. Much of the fixation time is actually spend planning the subsequent saccade and is not involved in extracting meaning from the word.

How fast could you read, and still have good comprehension, if you did not have to plan and make all the saccades? You can answer that question using rapid visual serial presentation, or RSVP. RSVP removes all the saccades by presenting each word in the same location, but at a slightly different time. Because each word appears in the same place, there is no need for the eyes to move. While 250 to 300 words per minute is an average reading speed for relatively easy prose, you can, with virtually no effort, crank that up to over 400 words per minutes using RSVP. With a little practice, you can push your reading speed quite a bit higher with RSVP while retaining reasonably good comprehension. JUST DON'T BLINK!

The Activity:

In this activity, you will read using the RSVP method. Look directly at the plus sign below -- each word will be centered there. When you click the RSVP button a new word will be presented every 150 ms -- that is 400 words per minute. Can you read the message? If so, slide the rate control to the left to make the words come even faster. How fast can you read without much practice using RSVP?


Rate of presentation: One word every 50 ms One word every 200 ms