Using Neuroscience to Understand Reading Slumps

I wanted to write this article because neuroscience intrigues me. I spent a year as an undergraduate student studying the subject. But eventually I realized that I couldn’t spend my life in a lab, and I dove back into writing and literature full time. I thought writing this article would be a good chance to reacquaint myself with reading primary scientific literature.

If you don’t know what primary literature is, the term refers to articles written for a specialized and educated reader. Scientific work of this kind appears in journals such as Nature and Science. Primary papers and articles are typically peer reviewed, which means they are thoroughly vetted by a team of people who are experts in their respective fields. This literature is not simple. Often, peer-reviewed papers are intended for other people in the same or related fields. Primary literature will usually include long complex sentences, a plethora of acronyms (usually internally defined but not always), and will often casually reference other primary literature as the assumed reader knows the intricacies of the most popular or influential papers in the particular field at hand.

After the first four articles I read, it was hard for me to focus with the same amount of absorption, and I decided to give my brain a rest. Usually I can read all day, but my preference for literary fiction does not require me to flex the same patterns of neurons, and I found myself working parts of my brain that have been dormant for years. The mental strain was more than I was used to, and reading felt like decoding a foreign language. The next day I was apprehensive to dive back in, and a few days passed where I just didn’t want to pick up a book at all. (Quite a rare occasion for me.)

Was I in a reading slump now? This is where the article gets tricky. What is a reading slump? Well, looking up reading and slump individually equates to when reading falls off. Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary both don’t have the term as a whole, nor does American Heritage, so I fall on the most credible source I could find: The Urban Dictionary. UD defines a reading slump as “A reader’s worst nightmare. Not being able to pick up a book and read because you can’t, you just can’t read.”

This definition is slightly more specific, but it gives you no parameters. So, is any time you can’t read considered a reading slump? I don’t think so. I think we can start a definition by saying no immediate external stimulus is fighting for your attention; if there is construction outside loudly breaking your concentration every few minutes, I wouldn’t count that as a reading slump.

To continue the definition I’d add that this condition must last for more than one attempt at reading. But even with this definition, which narrows the scope, it will still be hard to give you a definitive neurobiological reason for why this happens. There is not going to be one simple answer for everyone, and every time you hit a reading slump there could potentially be a different problem. Though, understanding some basic neuroscience will give you concepts to consider the next time you slump on your reading.

One of the primary papers I read was “Neurobiological Bases of Reading Comprehension…” The abstract for this article starts, “For accurate reading comprehension, readers must first learn to map letters to their corresponding speech sounds[1] and meaning and then they must string the meanings of many words together to form a representation of the text.” What they discuss here is the transference of writing from the page to the reader. Following this quote, the article abstract explains that from this representation of the words held in our mind, we must then understand its context within everything else. This is, more or less, what fully comprehended text is. Even if we read a hurricane warning on a picture, understanding the context of the words tells us if we need to panic

Read the full article in Bookriot.com.

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