Hall of Shame: Willingham uses science to blast 'eyeQ'

By Daniel Willingham
Every week or two I get an email from a teacher, parent, or school board member seeking my opinion about a curriculum or product. I’m not a product reviewer, so until now I’ve declined. But some of the products seem so ill-conceived that I thought it was worth writing about them. So I’m starting an occasional series on this blog called “Hall of Shame” in which I’ll feature educational products that are unsupported or contradicted by scientific evidence, and yet are actually in use in schools.

eyeQ is a computer program currently being tested in Salt Lake City Schools which the makers describe as “an effective tool for Brain Enhancement, Reading Improvement, and Vision Therapy or Eye Training.” Near-sighted users are promised that they likely will see an improvement in their vision. Improvements in reading speed of 100% in less than one month are described as typical.

You can try the first lesson free at the website. You are encouraged to read at different paces (some that are clearly meant to be faster than you could possibly read), to follow a moving object as it appears and disappears at different spots on the screen, and to visualize an object expanding, guided by an oval that increases in size.

How would we know whether or not these exercises deliver the promised results?

The first thing one might do is search psychology, education, and medicine research databases, which cover most research journals published in English, and major research journals in other languages. I found nothing about eyeQ.

So research databases are not going to provide any help in establishing the credibility of eyeQ. What about the science on which eyeQ claims to be based?

According to the website, eyeQ works by making the right hemisphere of your brain active during reading. This happens by encouraging readers to create visual images as they read. Following an object with your eyes is also purported to activate the right hemisphere of your brain.

Both of these tasks actually use both hemispheres of the brain, not just the right. More importantly, it’s not clear why you would want more brain activity. More brain activity doesn’t mean you are thinking better. In fact, less brain activity is frequently a sign that your thinking is more efficient.

The website makes much of the fact that only the left hemisphere of the brain is active when you are reading. It neglects to mention that the left and right hemispheres are both active in inexperienced readers.

The coup de grace for me is the website’s claim that the left hemisphere is associated with scientific ability and logic, whereas the right brain is associated with intuition and artistic ability. This cartoon characterization of the brain was discredited 30 years ago.

When a truly new idea comes along, someone has to be the first to try it, so even if a product like eyeQ had not been rigorously tested, I could see asking teachers and students to invest their time to try it if it seemed likely to work.

But the claims made are fantastic (doubling your reading speed in one month) and anyone with any experience in human neuroscience would tell you that the science is confused.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?” His research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-12 education.

The Answer Sheet called eyeQ and spoke to the company’s president, Jeffrey C. Flamm, about Willingham’s conclusions.

Flamm said there is some research showing the effectiveness of eyeQ but added that there needs to be more because much of the feedback has been anecdotal.

He said eyeQ is being used in 750 schools. "The results are irrefutable," he said.

Flamm said the research upon which eyeQ is based came from a Japanese educator, Akihiro Kawamura, who is described on the web site as having conducted extensive research and authored 72 books related to brain function and reading.

The books do not show up in a web search, he said, because they are in Japanese.

By Valerie Strauss  |  November 10, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Checking It Out , Daniel Willingham , Guest Bloggers , Technology , The Brain  | Tags: Daniel Willingham, Guest Bloggers, Hall of Shame, eyeQ Share This:  E-Mail | Technorati | Del.icio.us | Digg | Stumble Previous: How many injuries before kids should hang up their cleats?
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Don't rush me - I'm still reading... But seriously, one of the best courses I took in graduate school for study improvement was speed reading. There are techniques that can be learned to quickly scan books and get the main emphasis of the writing. This helps a student quickly focus on the details/facts and not dwell on narrative that may not be critical to understanding the topic. Not sure if EyeQ is like this, but speed reading in general is a good thing for students with a lot of technical reading to get done.

Posted by: DontGetIt | November 11, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Reading education fails to support the reading development of approximately 30% of all children in public schools. This percentage rises to 60% when considering the neediest children in our country. Supplemental programs which may alleviate the level reading failure in this country are a critical investment on the part of schools. However, EyeQ is not that solution. EyeQ simply appears to address children’s reading speed (and questionably so, given a lack of unbiased scientific support). As a solution for reading difficulty, EyeQ is inconsistent with the volumes of research that do exist regarding young children's reading development. Reading is complex and success is dependent upon a child's knowledge of the world, vocabulary, and language ability. Visual motor speed does not predict reading success when weighed against these other factors. Given that EyeQ is not appropriate for addressing any actual educational goal, schools’ use of EyeQ represents fiscally irresponsible behavior and ethically questionable judgment. Indeed, children's time spent in EyeQ is potentially harmful as it takes time and money away from activities/programs which have evidence of supporting children’s reading development. If a child of mine attended a school investing in EyeQ, I would be horrified at the negligent use of my tax money and illogical use of my child’s time.

Posted by: asm21 | November 11, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Struggling student here. I have personally used eyeQ as per a recommendation from a friend who also suffered from ADHD. I increased my test scores after the use of this program, and I fully believe in the effectiveness of it. As some would say the proof is in the pudding.

Posted by: eldersteed84 | November 11, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I am Jeff Flamm, the CEO and Founder of Infinite Mind. I was a bit surprised that Dr. Willingham would post such a negative article about a product that he was unwilling to try before writing his blog. His doubts about eyeQ's effectiveness are best answered by results experienced in the many schools that have used eyeQ. This program MEASURES reading effectiveness by testing both speed AND comprehension. It was tested by 80 students at a major university. Students experienced an increase in comprehension of 62% while reading almost three times as fast. Their EFS (Effective Reading Speed) went up by over 400%!
As recommended by Brad Lord-Leutwyler in his new book "Everything You Need to Know Before Beginning Law School", students who use eyeQ WILL raise their LSAT scores, and he personally guarantees it!

Go to our website and check out first hand, testimonials of people who have actually USED the program. Anyone can try it free at eyeQadvantage.com and see why we GUARANTEE the results!

Posted by: jflamm | November 11, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I have a BA in Economics, cum laud, from Harvard, 1982. I mention this only because it hopefully verifies the fact that I used to be a good student. For me, being a good student required that I spend over twice the time reading my assignments as did my fellow classmates. I was a terribly slow reader throughout high school and college. It was only through persistence that I was able to excel. At the time, I knew of no other alternative.
I am now 49 years old, and I was still a slow reader until I bought EyeQ about three weeks ago. My reading speed has gone from 263 words per minute to 452 words per minute now. (The program provides daily, timed practice sessions where reading speeds and reading comprehension are measured and graphed to track progress.) I am now able to read almost twice as fast as ever before -- yes, in less than one month -- and I am able to ENJOY READING for the first time in my life.
When Dr. Willingham asks, "How would we know whether or not these exercises deliver the promised results?", his answer is very reminiscent of those I used to hear from the highest of the proverbial ivory towers: "search psychology, education and medicine research databases". Sure. See what other academics say. If "white papers" written by "resume-qualified" authors haven't been published in "reputable journals"... whatever it claims to be, it can't be true... not in any independently verifiable way. In fact... it's probably a hoax. Yeah. After all, "anyone with any experience with human neuroscience would tell you that the science is confused."
True, I don't have any experience with human neuroscience; but why do I need to ask a neuroscientist to determine whether or not a software program will help me? If I had based my purchase decision on Dr. Willingham's theoretical hypotheses, I wouldn't have purchased the program, and I would still read as slowly as I have always read before. If Harvard taught me one thing, it's this: don't believe everything you learn in school.

Posted by: jphumphreys777 | November 11, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

To Jeff Flamm, jphumprheys777 & eldersteed:

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data." It's great that people feel that eyeQ has helped them. But there's a reason that people conduct scientific experiments. When you see someone who swears that a product worked for them, you ought to wonder "How many people have used it for whom it didn't work?" I've never seen a diet program that didn't run advertisements featuring people who *swore* that it worked for them.

And it matters that's an independent investigator who sets up the experiment. It's been known since the 1960's that if you strongly expect a particular outcome of an experiment, you are likely to unconsciously design the experiment in a way likely to confirm you expectation.

That's not ivory tower thinking. That's just wanting substantive proof that something works before you use the school time of someone's children for your product.

Posted by: DanielTWillingham | November 11, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Okay, with the help of the eyeQ I'll EFS up 400%. That is more than I EFS up now.

Posted by: WorriedParent | November 12, 2009 12:06 AM | Report abuse


This article is one big logical fallacy, the appeal to ignorance: "I could not find any information, therefore I know it must be shady...or worse."

First, I am one of those "anecdotes" referred to in the article. I used eyeQ and in TEN DAYS I doubled my reading speed. Ultimately I improved my speed from 300 words per minute to 2500 wpm.

Second, the simple truth is that we learn and comprehend VAST volumes of information quickly and easily when fed it: I can see a painting and extract a thousand words. Reading, due to its slow pace and linear nature, fails to challenge the brain. EyeQ forces the eye to move fast, and over time it tricks the mind into perceiving words as pictures, and blocks of words as concepts.

I have prescribed this software for many students over the last five years and NEVER ONCE has it failed to produce stellar results. The only people I have ever encountered who have not achieved great improvement in speed AND comprehension are (a) those with physical or mental impairments or (b) those who do not use the software rigorously and properly. EyeQ requires one to use it regularly and aggressively in order to maximize results, so lazy people looking for easy, magical results are disappointed (is this you, Danny boy?).

Finally, the you are semi-correct: the plural of anecdote is not "data". It is "strong and growing-stronger statistical correlation which has surpassed the point of mere correlation and infers causation using many methods of analysis including Mills' methods of difference and agreement." On a trivial level you score a great point. Substantively you again reveal your dearth of analytical ability.

Shame on you for your ignorant tripe.
If you want to defend yourself, BRING IT! My number is (702) 483-5866.

Brad Lord-Leutwyler
Henderson, Nevada

Posted by: physhead | November 12, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

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