How does your brain so quickly make sense of what at first glance is nonsense? Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but they have some suspicions.
Yuo cna porbalby raed tihs esaliy desptie teh msispeillgns.
They think part of the reason the sentence above is readable is because our brains are able to use context to make predictions about what's to come.
For example, research has revealed that when we hear a sound that leads us to expect another sound, the brain reacts as if we're already hearing that second sound.
This is similar to the way the brain responds to an arrangement of letters or words. As your brain deciphered each word in the example above, it also predicted which words would logically come next to form a coherent sentence.
"We are continuously anticipating what we will see, hear or feel next," Dr. Lars Muckli, a researcher at the University of Glasgow's Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology told Phys.org.
However, even if you read that garbled example with ease, you probably didn't read every word correctly. You thought you did because you understood the sentence, but in addition to predicting what came next, your brain also filled in any gaps based on the subsequent words.
Just how good is your brain at reading garbled words?
If you've ever been stumped by a word jumble, you know it's not always easy to unscramble a certain assortment of letters. But what if the first and last letters of the word are in place?
If you're familiar with the text below, you may think you'd still be able to read any word scrambled in such a fashion.
"It deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe."
According to this meme, which claims to be based on Cambridge University research, we're able to read that passage because our brains process all of the letters in a word at once. However, according to Matt Davis, a senior research at Cambridge's Cognition and Brain Science Unit, that's not entirely true.
"There are elements of truth in this, but also some things which scientists studying the psychology of language (psycholinguists) know to be incorrect," he writes.
Davis uses the following three sentences to illustrate how simply leaving the first and last letters of a word in place doesn't necessarily mean a sentence will still be easily readable.
1. A vheclie epxledod at a plocie cehckipont near the UN haduqertares in Bagahdd on Mnoday kilinlg the bmober and an Irqai polcie offceir
2. Big ccunoil tax ineesacrs tihs yaer hvae seezueqd the inmcoes of mnay pneosenirs
3. A dootcr has aimttded the magltheuansr of a tageene ceacnr pintaet who deid aetfr a hatospil durg blendur
Having a little trouble with those last two? Each of these sentences becomes progressively more challenging to read because, even though Davis followed the rule dictated in the meme, he jumbled the letters more. (You can read the original sentences at the bottom of Davis' article.)
"Clearly, the first and last letter is not the only thing that you use when reading text," he writes. "If this really was the case, how would you tell the difference between pairs of words like "salt" and "slat"?"
So why is the meme text so easy to read?
First of all, function words like "the" and "be" remain unchanged, which preserves sentence structure and helps your brain make predictions about what's next. You might not have even noticed those correctly spelled words because readers tend to gloss over function words when reading.
Also, transpositions of adjacent letters — such as "porbelm for problem" — are easier to read than more distant transpositions. Seeing "pelrbom" isn't quite as easily recognizable for your brain.
"We know from research in which people read words presented very briefly on a computer screen that the exterior letters of words are easier to detect than middle ones," Davis writes.
Finally, the transpositions in the meme tend to preserve the sound of the word (such as using "toatl" instead of "ttaol" for "total"), and none of the jumbled letters in the meme's words can spell another word like in the example of "salt" and "slat."
Related on MNN:
- Should we make spelling easier?
- Why do these still images appear to move?
- 5 things your brain does better than a computer