How Many Words Can the Brain Process Per Minute?

This article will cover how many words the brain processes in a minute. It also highlights how we can have better retention with the help of visual stimulation, and the effect of information overload on our brains. The article also answers some frequently asked questions regarding the processing capacity of the brain.

How Many Words Can the Brain Process Per Minute?

The brain can process up to 400-800 words per minute. Scientists have been aware of the brain’s capacity to understand speech at a rate of up to 400 words a minute and beyond for a long time now. They claim that the speech rate is not limited by the person who is listening, but by the one who is speaking. 

In normal conversations, the brain only uses a small part to work. The excess processing power of the listener is used for lurking predators, filtering out any background, and sometimes even for daydreaming. 

Thus, the reason why our minds wander is that the human brain processes words at an extraordinarily faster speed than the speed at which a person can speak. The average rate of speech for an average American is 125 words per minute, whereas the brain can process around 800 words per minute!

Visual Information versus Text-based Information Processing of the Brain

So, we know that auditorily the brain can process about 400 to 800 words per minute. What about visual content? You’d be surprised to know that the brain processes visual information at an even faster speed. Estimates have shown that the brain interacts with visual information around 60,000 times faster than text messages.

Evolutionary this makes sense. If an individual is hiking and sees a bear across the woods, the fight-flight response will kick in and the person may even start running long before the brain can react to this information in words with thoughts coming to you about there being a bear in the woods.

Visual stimuli are thus natural and essential for every species on earth that possess a sense of sight. It has taken only about a few thousand years for text-based communications to evolve, which is also limited only to humans. Thus, visual content easily and naturally interacts with the brain on an intuitive, basic level.

This is the very reason why visual content is used by advertisers often to be more effective in influencing. Visual content has an extraordinary effect on our brains’ tendency to learn and process new information. The most effective combination is words and pictures when it comes to teaching or grasping new concepts.

Clark and Mayer (2008) in the book on e-learning have highlighted that when graphics were included with text-based instructions ended up increasing the performance of the students by 89%. Whereas, the median performance of the students was only 40% when they only read the text-based instructions alone.

Colour also plays a strong role in memory. It has been found in research that recognition memory increases when participants are presented with coloured images in comparison with black-and-white images (Dzulkifli & Mustafar, 2013). 

Hence, this is the reason why visual content, which is accompanied by pleasant colours has helped marketers in brand recognition, retention of their messages, and helping customers comprehend complex information. 

Information Overload and Brain Processing

Thanks to social media we have a large number of data to deal with and interact with than we’ve had ever before. Visual content, however, has uniquely helped us cut through all the noise in this aspect too. 

Asyifa (2021) in their research has found that Generation Z is simply not reading enough. This generation does not read the text the same way previous generations did. They have mastered the art of skimming, reading spending about 4.4 seconds on every 100 words.

Thankfully, our brains are wired in a unique way to take in as well as process large quantities of visual data. Our eyes, alone, can register about 36,000 visual images. This is a big challenge for readers who read 250 words per minute on average. 

This means we can read up to 15,000 words per hour. Even if we managed to read 36,000 words in an hour, a lot of that information can be translated into an image and processed with relative ease. Thus, visuals communicate more information to our brain, usually at a much faster speed.

It is also interesting to note that our brain processes about 80% of the information presented to us visually.

Processing Information While Reading

While reading, the visual properties of the texts are encoded through a series of eye movements (Rayner, 1998). This is generally done left-to-right matching the line of the text. On average, human eyes move seven to eight-letter spaces for readers to read in English or other alphabetic writing systems.  It takes a longer time to read as the text difficulty increases.

Conclusion

The article highlighted that the brain can process up to 400 to 800 words per minute. The article also discussed the intricacies of the brain’s processing capacity. 

Frequently Asked Questions: How Many Words Can the Brain Process Per Minute?

How fast does the brain process words?

According to Dr Darla Rothman, we spend around 4.4 seconds processing 100 words. However, our brains are naturally wired to process large amounts of visual data rather than text (Webb, 2017).

How fast can the human brain think?

According to some estimates, the human brain can experience sensory stimuli presented to it in as less than 50 milliseconds. 50 milliseconds is one-twentieth of a second. However, scientists do believe that our brain can in fact respond to information briefer than this, information that lasts for less than a quarter of a millisecond.

Is the human brain faster than a computer?

The human brain is usually compared to a computer. It is known that the fastest synaptic transmission in the brain takes about 1 millisecond to take place. Thus, in terms of spikes as well as synaptic transmission, the brain can perform only a thousand basic operations per second. This makes the human brain about 10 million times slower than a computer. Thus, no, the human brain is not faster than a computer.

How much RAM does the human brain have?

It is said that the brain’s memory capacity is closer to 2.5 petabytes. This means the brain’s memory capacity is 2.5 million gigabytes! Interestingly, neurons combine so that they form many memories at a time, thus, the brain’s memory storage is ever increasing.

How much information can the brain’s short-term memory hold?

According to Miller (1956), adults can hold upto 5 to 9 items in their short-term memory. It is usually believed that the short-term capacity of humans is around 7 plus or minus 2 items.

For how long can information be stored in short-term memory?

Short-term memory can last from about 20 to 30 seconds or less according to the Information-Processing Model of Memory put forth by Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968). This model is also known as the Multi-Store Memory Model.

Can the human brain run out of memories?

In essence, memories depend on the formation of new neural connections. The brain has a finite number of neurons and thus a limited space in which it can add connections between them. However, a healthy brain can never stop learning. Older memories either weaken or fade out in order for newer memories to be formed.

References

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Chapter: Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In Spence, K. W., & Spence, J. T. The psychology of learning and motivation (Volume 2). New York: Academic Press. pp. 89–195.

Asyifa, D. I. (2021, January). Exploring Indonesian gen z digital reading issues. In UICELL Conference Proceeding (pp. 10-18).

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). How do people learn from e-courses. e-Learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning, 31-51.

Dzulkifli, M. A., & Mustafar, M. F. (2013). The influence of colour on memory performance: A review. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences: MJMS, 20(2), 3.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological review, 63(2), 81.

Rayner, K. (1998). Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research. Psychological bulletin, 124(3), 372.

Webb, J. (2017). Information Technology Whitepaper.

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