Word jumble hoax debunked


I’ve previously talked about the Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy hoax. The study described in that hoax has recently been carried out by a team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Durham. The data conclusively demonstrates that the hoax is incorrect.


The hoax claimed that transposing letters within a word did not slow reading performance because we recognize words as whole shapes. The team led by Keith Rayner found that all kinds of letter transpositions slow reading speed. Transposing internal letters as shown in the original hoax resulted in a reading speed decline from 255 words per minute (wpm) to 227 words per minute. Performance was worse if the transposition included the beginning or final letters of a word.

























 


Example Sentence


Reading Speed


Normal


The boy could not solve the problem so he asked for help.


255 wpm


Internal letters


The boy cuold not slove the probelm so he aksed for help.


227 wpm


Final letters


The boy coudl not solev the problme so he askde for help.


189 wpm


Beginning letters


The boy oculd not oslve the rpoblem so he saked for help.


163 wpm


Additionally this study examined readers’ eye movements while reading these different conditions. They found that readers needed to spend more time fixating on words in the transposition conditions and made more regressive saccades.


This study only looked at letter transpositions of a single position, like the kinds used in the original hoax. I can only speculate how dramatically reading speed would be hurt with more dramatic transpositions like:

The boy cluod not svloe the pelborm so he aeksd for help.

Hopefully this study puts the hoax to rest. This and many other studies have made it clear that we don’t recognize words by whole shapes, but use letter information to recognize words.


Cheers, Kevin Larson


Rayner, K., White, S., Johnson, R., Liversedge, S. (2006). Raeding Wrods With Jubmled Lettres; There Is a Cost. Psychological Science 17(3), 192-193.


Comments (24)

  1. Duncan Lock says:

    I think it’s quite interesting that, although reading speed is diminished with internal rearrangement, it’s possibly not diminished by as much as you might expect.

  2. fbcontrb says:

    This reminds me of my first car, an old Volkswagen Beatle. Its top speed on open road was 72 miles per hour (116 kilometers per hour). When its top speed suddenly decreased to 65 mph (105 kph), I knew that it was time to get a tune up.

    255 wpm is analogous to my car’s top speed, and a ten percent reduction in speed to 227 wpm is a strong indication that something has seriously gone wrong with the text.

    Cheers, Kevin

  3. Jacob says:

    Well, I would still think that we recognize word shapes and not letters when reading.

    But if you jumble letters within a word you also change the word shape, hence the (slight) decrease in reading speed…

  4. Kevin Larson says:

    Jakob, why do you think we recognize word shapes?

    In this longer paper I cover the evidence in favor of parallel letter recogntiion over the word shape hypothesis.

    http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/WordRecognition.aspx

    Cheers, Kevin

  5. Anna says:

    Our brain probably looks at both word shapes and letters and is also primed by context.  When you mix up the letters, it does some damage, and the brain has to work harder, but it can still figure it out.  It’s still possible to read a jumbled sentence fluently.

    Did the "hoax" really assert that reading speed did not decrease at all?  It was my understanding that the conclusion was simply that we *can* read jumbled words, and pretty easily at that.  And that alone is pretty interesting!

  6. Chris says:

    I don’t necessarily have an informed opinion on word shape vs. parallel letter recognition.  But I think I read once — in a typography book — that one reason to use all-caps sparingly is that word shapes become less distinctive and thus harder to read.  To some approximation, any all-caps word just looks like a RECTANGLE of some length.  Whereas in ‘rectangle’ the ascenders and descenders add distinction to the shape and make it faster to recognize.

  7. justin burke says:

    the "hoaxer" is you matey and the only thing to be "debunked" should be this blog.

    of course its fascinating that we can read "jumbled up" words – its TURLY AZAMNIG in fact. What a dour individual with no life you must be.

  8. pete says:

    wow justin. how ill informed you must be. yes it is amazing that we can read jumbled words. but i also point you to this site. maybe you will be greater informed next time you choose to post.

    http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/~mattd/Cmabrigde/

  9. linzi says:

    hi, can you please tell me what the word "pmcnoay" is unjumbled, thank you.

  10. I find that reading one sentence with a series of typos very distracting. But when I read an entire paragraph or two in which typos are integral to the entire text, I have no  trouble reading through the text. I didnot hesitate or fixate on trying to "fix" the typos in my head as I do when I’m reading a single sentence in which typos exist.

       I’d like to see the experiment tested with both kinds of typo set-ups: singular sentences, may be more than one sentence in the grouping’ and finally with a a longer piece of text devoted to one topic or idea.

         thank

    Sandra Ireland  March 24, 2008

    Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island CANADA

  11. Carey Daste says:

    The email that was forwarded to me only mentions whether you CAN read the jumbled words.  To me another factor is that people expect certain words to come after others.  Since the email I got started out with "if you can read the following paragraph" whoever is trying to read it already knows it’s somewhat of a challenge.  To me since none of the words are difficult or tricky then whoever says they can’t read it probably just doesn’t want to take the time or try.  I dont think it has anything to do with the the mind seeing the shape of a word, and I definitely think it can slow down the reader even if it is slight.  🙂

  12. Cambridge says:

    re: hi, can you please tell me what the word "pmcnoay" is unjumbled, thank you.

    There are no words in the english language that start with P, end with Y, and contain each of those letters. Assuming you jumbled the entire word including the first and last letters, your unjumbled word is likely "company"

  13. Vinny says:

    The vowels need to be in proper order

  14. visitoor says:

    If "pmcnoay" is "company" and there is no word in the English language that starts with "p" and ends with "y", then your argument or point is invalid.  Since the original email placed the first and last letter in the proper order and only "jumbled" the middle letters- at least according to the laws of logic.

    Since I am as ill informed about the whole subject, I would say I won’t be intentionally condescending, just point out that the first part of Cambridge and Durhams studies sound initially from the summary above off the subject of the original email and there fore, may be invalid with the information here.

    Sorry, back to bio chem; but keep the peace!

  15. visitoor says:

    If "pmcnoay" is "company" and there is no word in the English language that starts with "p" and ends with "y", then your argument or point is invalid.  Since the original email placed the first and last letter in the proper order and only "jumbled" the middle letters- at least according to the laws of logic.

    Since I am as ill informed about the whole subject, I would say I won’t be intentionally condescending, just point out that the first part of Cambridge and Durhams studies sound initially from the summary above off the subject of the original email and there fore, may be invalid with the information here.

    Sorry, back to bio chem; but keep the peace!

  16. Simon says:

    I only noticed that the words ‘Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy’ were jumbled on the second reading, for what it is worth.

  17. maria says:

    Very interesting topic! I’m currently doing this study on : how does cognitive measures helps in assessing language. Participants were asked to copy sentences given to them on a graphic tablet. Using a special software, we capture the pauses of very low level writing processes: like pauses between each strokes, letters and words.

    My stimuli are sets of sentences including a few which contains some sentences with jumbled letters and some sentences with jumbled words.

    From the analysis that I’m currently doing, I have to choose which sentences are the most useful ones (that have a high correlation in showing a person’s language level).

    Surprisingly, its the JUMBLED ones. Out of 19 tasks, 4 were the most useful ones, and it all contains common features: Jumble, be it, jumbled letters or words.

    My next question is, so how does these jumbled letters/words effects language level? Can anyone help as to what I should look at now? Is it syntax? Semantics? Pragmatics? My course is cognitive science, and I’m not from the language field. But the findings is very interesting. Plus it proposes a new way of assessing language, besides all the exams we have.

    Thanks!

  18. Token says:

    I personally think that people or blowing this way out of proportion if it was a "hoax" then it was, and just as Anna said i don’t believe they said it was a fact that we can still read it. i don’t recall anything saying OMG this will make you read soo fast. who cares how fast you read, it was obviously a joke if my little brother and all the other kids on myspace/facebook or the ones being targeted. i think you people just want something to talk about…lame. get off the internet and stop wasting your life gezz. oh yeah maria has a nice point as well. one more thing how come when you did only "internal" letters the so called "wpm" wasn’t as low as just the first or last word. which the so called hoax had nothing to do with, I’m sure it said to keep the first and last letter in place. so technically your not even doing the right study. think about it since your sooo smart you went from 255, 227, 189,to 163. wow it would take a genius to figure that out and yet you still don’t get it. i can’t believe i’m even commenting on this page. bybye peeps yall have fun talking about nothing i’m out…;o)

  19. charlie says:

    I think it is all quite fascinating and if you keep the first and last letter the same and jumble the middle of the word it easier to read. Like: smeonoe kepes slaenig my alppe.

    I have also realised what Token has said roughly the same 😀 apologies. I’m only young but I think you can read just the same and at the same speed (sps(syllables per second) as reading normally.

    charls

  20. Matt says:

    I think you mean slatenig your apple.

  21. maria says:

    hmm… well.. i dunno.. it just seems so interesting to me peeps.. i guess, there’s something about it, that i can use for measuring language competency.

    try thinking about the cognitive processes related to reading these jumbled letters.. it might not matter to some.. but for researchers trying to figure out, what processes involves while reading them.. its really interesting! this then relates to language understanding.. the comprehension.. how your memory retrieve familiar words from the long term memory.. and what not..

    well, i guess, its worth looking into.. anything is possible, and that’s why research work exist…

    just my 1 cent thought.

  22. max says:

    I think this is very interesting, so I decided to a science fair project on it. Thank you for sharing this great Cambridge University catastrophe.

  23. Dave says:

    Recognition of the sentence's total locution pays no small part in the recognition of the individual words.  There is an contradictory process occurring in the absorption of the statement and words where the gist of the statement is accepted before the words are mentally 'verified' as being the ones necessary to construct the statement.  The processes are really quite interesting.

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