Wanted: a healthy dose of skepticism

While conducting research for one of my assignments, I came across this factoid on one of my many, many Google searches (how did we function as students before Google?):

“The human eye processes images 60,000 times faster than text.”

Intrigued I clicked into the main body of the article-one from a well established business blog. I did a little more searching, reading it on multiple sources. My weary brain latched onto the sentence.It was a snappy phrase and I popped it into my first draft, not really thinking too much about it’s validity. Until my second draft came along and I went looking for the source so I could reference it correctly.

That’s when the wheels came off spectacularly. The original article gave a broken link as the source so back I went to Google, thinking perhaps it was a quote linked to an infographic. A quick search of images brought me many polished, professional looking graphics but nothing resembling the original quote. It seemed as if like me, a lot of people had seized on this quote as gospel.

Back I went to searching mainly for text and that’s when I stumbled across this fantastic blog post. This author had done immense research into the quote. The post was long and incredibly detailed, showcasing many dead ends and false hopes. The bottom line though is that not only has this quote yet to be verified by a reliable source, it is also a factual impossibility. If indeed our eyes did process images 60,000 times faster than text that means that an image that takes 1 second to process, would take 60,000 seconds or 9 hours to process in text form? It just doesn’t add up.

I’d like to say lesson learned but I just know if I come across another fact that seems too good to be true, I can guarantee I’ll be reaching for the ‘ctrl’ and ‘c’ keys faster than my brain can stop me. I guess it’s human nature-we are such aesthetically driven creatures after all and if it’s packaged well enough, then in many cases it’s sad to say, the content will come second.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. CogDog says:

    Good on you for being thorough and thinking critically about this kind of information you find online, one of the real examples of Steven Colbert’s concept of “truthiness”.

    I am not sure on the 9 hours path. The processing time they are talking about, I think, is from the timing of a neuron to fire, which is on the order of milliseconds, so maybe it’s 60 seconds. Still, it’s never clear what “processing” means.


    1. Aedin says:

      Ah that makes a it more sense if it’s the neuron’s firing!Didn’t think of that-thanks.


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