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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Exercise V - Tachistoscope - Don't sight-read and chew gum at the same time!

Tachistoscope is a device used in exposing visual stimuli, as pictures, letters, or words, for an extremely brief period (faster then 1/25 of a second), used chiefly to assess visual perception, memory or to increase reading speed.
According to the PTS II manual, "the tachistoscope program requires you to identify a group of stimuli presented all at once for a brief exposure speed. Tachistoscopic perception requires Perceptual Speed, Visual Memory, Visualization and Temporal Visual processing".
You can find an immense amount of information about this subject on the internet. You can even download free tachistoschipes if you want to try Exercise V at home.

When I first started this exercise, I had a very easy time. Now that I am on the final levels, my performance is decreasing rapidly*. It became very complicated. Five characters, a combination of numbers and letters, flash in front of my eyes and it is virtually impossible for me to identify them. If I am "cool" enough to scan the given stimuli left to right quickly or better, grouping numbers and letters, I am successful. Otherwise..... If I am chewing gum, it never works (this is not a joke).

The variables for this exercise are:

Stimuli Type – numbers, upper case letters, lower cast letters, and codes (combination of letters and numbers).

Stimuli size – medium and large.

Length of stimuli – length of sequences presented vary from one to six.

Speed – fast (1/4 second) and slow (1/2 second).

Delay – in some levels, you must withhold the response while a moving "distraction" (bird, balloon - my favorite is the flying banana) appears on the screen. Your eyes have to follow the "distraction" until it disappears. Only then, you enter a response. The objective is to activate your working memory**.

Goal - 70% or greater correct trials.

* Double click on the image to see my results so far.
** Working memory is a process that involves remembering one stimulus while performing a different task. Such a skill is necessary for sight-reading.


  1. Your blog is wonderful!
    My teacher makes me sight read only Czerny and classical sontainas. They really suck and I am not getting anywhere.
    Thanks for making this fun for me.

  2. You are clever and funny!
    The trio exercise is indeed excellent!
    I also like the idea of sight-reading a more eclectic repertoire.
    I will come back.

  3. Interesting. I found your blog while searching on the use of tachistoscopes for training artists to sketch quickly. This picture is an example of what I mean. It's a self-portrait of the artist Phil May, well-known for his cartoons in Punch. (The image is from , which summarises May's life.) That self-portrait is typical of his style, in that he uses few lines, and many of those he does use indicate wrinkles and folds in clothing. Which are useful in a line sketch, because they help depict 3D shape without using shading. So I'd been wondering whether I could improve my sketching by tachistoscopically training myself to very quickly memorise such wrinkle and fold marks. I've never read of artists doing this.

    Perhaps I should also be thinking about the visual-sequencing exercises in your Exercise IV - Visual Search or " Where's Wally"...

    Do many sight-readers discuss topics such as visual planning and visual buffering? In other words, how much do they think about human memory mechanisms and how to improve them?

    Jocelyn Ireson-Paine

  4. HI Jocelyn,
    Sight-reading requires a lot of visual planning (the strategy we use for searching a target). The way we read depends on the writing style of the piece or passages within a piece. As we read, we have to decide where and how to look (i.e., horizontal for polyphony X vertical for homophony). We also have to plan how to read chords (i.e., top/down X bottom/up). The "visual search" exercise is very helpful for us. It develops both visual planning and figure-ground perception).Visual search exercise improves visual discrimination (figure-ground perception) which has being linked to the ability to decode rhythmic elements on the score. See Lawren Stewart (2005).
    What we call "buffering", psychologists call working memory. Both sight-reading and drawing have great working memory demands. Only recently, researches started looking into working memory and music.
    I have lots of material about working memory and you just gave me a great idea for a new article. If you keep in touch, I will soon post an article about WM.
    PTSII has 3 exercises that develop working memory: visual span, tachistoscopic and visual-visual integration.
    I took many years of drawing and painting classes. There is a wonderful book out called "Vision and Art"-The Biology of Seeing by Margaret Livingstone (neurobiologist form Harvard). It is fascinating! Here is a link to one of her lectures to art students:
    If you have not seeing it already, please do.
    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Hi again Cynthia. I mentioned this posting, and your blog, in "Art Science". It's some thoughts about how psychology could help us draw, or learn to draw. I'm hoping that I'll find some psychologists to collaborate with, in order to develop these ideas. Your blog is one that I mention to people, because the studies you mention are analogous to those I'd like to see done on psychology and art performance.

  6. Hi again Jocelyn,
    I used to attend a cognitive psychology lab at Colorado University where they study internal X external focus of attention. It really applies to music and performance. Their work focuses on athletes and rehabilitation pacients after strokes, etc. I suggested that they studied art students more specifically drawing students because I feel it is also relevant to them. Have you ever read anything about focus of attention?