Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Different Ways We Read: The Movie in Your Head

The first time I really appreciated how different our reading experiences can be from one another, I was watching a mystery movie with my husband. "Isn't that funny," he began, "that view on the beach is just exactly as I saw it while I was reading the book." I looked at him..."Huh??"

When I read, I don't see a motion picture running through my head. I can understand what the authors is describing and picture the situations, but it's never far removed from the words. My experience of reading a story is like hearing someone telling a story (and I can sometimes hear the voices speaking - auditory imagery - while reading the text). It's certainly not like a continuous running movie so that if I saw a movie in a theatre, I could recognize it as being the same or different from the movie I saw in the book.

For Brock, and many others, though, it is like a running movie, and it's one of those surprising things (brain-based perception is like that) that just doesn't come up all that often despite all the reading that goes one. Very young kids can get this running movie, and many of these highly imagistic readers really love to read.

There are definite advantages that come from having a powerful ability to visualize, but also disadvantages too - depending on the situation. We've included a link below to Gerald Grow's "The Writing Problems of Visual Thinkers", but also wanted to share this interesting paper from the Just lab. Because the language of pictures and words is different, it's often harder to translate what's been seen into words. In the figure below, you can see that high imagery sentences were much better than low imagery sentences activating the intraparietal sulcus.

But look at how high imagery sentences affected other things like response time and error rate:

In fact, many powerful visualizers are slower to speak (less likely to be the first to have their hand up) and they can make errors - particularly if a strong personal image generated by information or text overrides the consideration of other possibilities. Like many differences in the brain - they may be particularly good for some tasks, but bad for others. A better understanding of one's unique wiring, though, can always be useful information.

Imagery in Sentence Comprehension
Writing Problems of Visual Thinkers


  1. The 'Imagery in Sentence Comprehension' link seems to be broken.


  2. Thanks, Chris - I wasn't sure how to put a link to this...I usually just use the 'Blog this' button. I fixed it and now link to to a Google search page that has this paper at the top.