"60 000 times faster than text" ... Really?

7/06/2012 01:45:00 pm

I just got an email from Alan Levine. He's sniffing around for the origin of the quote many folks have often used, myself included, that we process visual information 60 000 times faster than text.

Here's what Alan said:

I need your help. I have found an assertion repeated on thousands of web sites, and repeated so often that it is cited as a fact, yet I have tried and tried and have been unable to locate the actual source of this claim:
Research at 3M Corporation concluded that we process visuals 60000 times faster than text.

In the interest of dogged pursuit, information literacy, and all that we value as scholarship (okay I am laying it on)- can you help me find the answer? Or spread to someone who can?

Here's what I found ...

I started with the search engine millionshort.com by eliminating the first million hits from Google I circumvented the lions share of SEO (Search Engine Optimized) sites and took a first stab at the deeper web.

The 6th & 7th link struck me as worth following, the 7th link included a citation “The Power of Color in Presentations:”. (http://www.sspweb.com/SSP/visual_lit/VisualLitOnline.pdf) I thought the inclusion of a colon here was odd, probably someone doing a quick "cut & paste". I followed the link to a middle school student's paper. In the bibliography she cites a presentation by Ian Jukes. (Not the one I've included in that link. Its a pdf; page 8.) I first heard the "60 000 times faster than text" claim from him several years back in St. Louis at a workshop for administrators.

One more comment about that student's paper, look at where it's hosted; www.sspweb.com. Looks like a software solutions company. Why would a Middle School kid's paper be there? I did a little digging (go look at their About page). I suspect it's likely her teacher's website.

The link to the Ian Jukes reference is dead, I tried several ways of getting at it but didn't work too hard as I really wanted another source although he might have included some bibliographical info in there somewhere I suppose.

Another search and I found the 3M web page for "The Power of Color in Presentations":


There is no mention of the "60 000 times faster than text" research.

I did another regular Google Search for:

3m “The Power of Color in Presentations”
(quotes included; I removed the colon)

I found a link to a Google Books search:

In the book "They Snooze You Lose" by Lynell Burmark she cites the source as:


I looked up the link, which was dead, but the date (May 1998) struck me.

A custom Google Search for dates between 1 Jan 1900 and 31 Dec 1998 lead me to what I thought was the original presentation at 3M where I found this quote (below) in the transcript of a presentation given by Jenn Manalo, Sr. Product Specialist, 3M Corp. This talk was given at St. Louis College Valenzuela on 31 Aug 1998 (I used my browsers "find" command to search for the number 60 and five clicks of "next").

"Humans can process an outstanding amount of visual information. Actually, we can process at 60,000 times faster than text."

Looking up that specific quote using each of the different options at millionshort or a regular Google search returns one result; that very same web page.

Now, let's look up Jenn Manalo, Sr. Product Specialist, 3M Corp.

No fruitful results from pipl.com or linkedin.com or anywhere really. I found several Jenn Manalos in the Philippines. I suspect Jenn is Filipino because she uses two Tagalog words in her talk "matandang mayamang" (old rich) and the url from the archive of her talk has a Philippines root (.ph). Also, St. Louis College is in Valenzuela, Philippines. None of the LinkedIn profiles I found have a Jenn Manalo ever working at 3M.

Lastly I used the "site" command and Googled:

site:http://www.3m.com Jenn Manalo


So it seems Jenn said it; maybe even said it first. (Her talk is dated 31 Aug 1998 and the date embedded in the link from the citation in Lynell Burmark's book points to May 1998 ... there's more work to be done here.) She said "research shows …" a number of times in her archived talk but did not say so for the "60 000 times faster than text" fact; although it is in quotation marks as though she's quoting another source. (Then again, it might be the redactor quoting Jenn.) She may have worked for 3M in the late 1990's and she gave a talk on effective presentations at St. Louis College in Valenzuela, Philippines.

Learning Pyramid
Learning Pyramid (Photo credit: dkuropatwa)
It's worth noting that Jenn alluded to someone else saying the "60 000 times" fact and, although she may have been employed by 3M, she didn't say the research was done by 3M.

All this reminds me of the Learning Pyramid hoax and another time I was "awarded" a Top 100? blog.

Good luck with the search Alan. I can't wait to learn what more you find. ;-)

UPDATE: Getting Closer

I realized I hadn't limited my original Google Search to the 1 Jan 1900 - 31 Dec 1998 time frame. So I went back and did that.

First hit was this pdf: Read 180 Aligned to No Child Left Behind hosted at scholastic.com (a subsidiary of the McGraw Hill publishing company). The research collected here is in support of their Read 180 literacy product. Direct from the pdf:

Media Researchers have found that humans process visual information 60,000 times faster than text, and visual aids can improve learning by up to 400 percent (Burmark, 2004).

I looked into Burmark … actually, I had already started that above. She's the author of You Snooze You Lose I mentioned previously. She apparently mentioned this same "fact" in her 2004 Book, Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn. In this pdf advertisement for the book she writes: "According to research from 3M Corporation, we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text."

We've already been down that road.

I'm not closer to the source of the research; I'm closer to saying it's an academic legend of the same sort as the Learning Pyramid hoax.

UPDATE: 14 July 2012

Still scratching away at this. I came across the "Pictorial Superiority Effect." These are the results of my digging around:

"Combining pictures with print or audio generally maximizes learning."

Still nothing about "60 000 times faster than text".

You Might Also Like


  1. You, sir are an amazing researcher. And even if you have not found the $60 prize, you taught me about milllionshort.com and impressed me with your knowledge of Filipino

  2. 1. Thanks for making me take out a slide I use.
    2. This is well done.
    3. I hate you for making me take out that slide.
    4. We need more work/posts like this.

  3. @Alan, you know I was never in it for the money; you had me at "I need". ;-)And, FWIW, my knowledge of Tagalog was really just a Google Translate search. I recognized the Tagalog because I used to have many Filipino students in my classes.

    1. You're welcome.
    2. Thanks.
    3. I feel the same way about it.
    4. See #3 above.

  4. This dog will not let go- I'm contacting Lynell Burmark- who has published this and uses it explicitly on his web site (http://educatebetter.org/?page_id=222) -- I am not criticizing his message, but just want to know the source!

    I had come across the scholastic doc early on too.

  5. I hope she replies. She seems to be the person most often referenced for the "60 000 times" and her work in turn seems to reference websites that reference 3M as the source. At this point I'm pretty confident 3M had nothing to do with it.

  6. Wow! This is exhaustive and I LOVE that it keeps coming back to 3M. Can't wait to see what happens with this investigation...

  7. This definitely IS a hoax and well worth debunking. Bernie Dodge called me on this a few years ago, I had been citing a presentation by Lynell Burmark (who authored a book on visual literacy) and Bernie pointed out that statement doesn't hold water... there are NOT scientific / academic research articles which support it. You might reach out to him (@berniedodge) for additional info on this.

    While we can't say with certainly how many more times faster our eyes process images than our ears process auditory information, we CAN say there are thousands more neurons which connect the eye to the brain than the ear to the brain. There is good research on this. The ballpark numbers I use now in presentations are "hundreds" of neurons connect the ears to the brain, while "thousands" of neurons connect the eye to the brain. That makes the point and is scientifically / factually accurate, based on the best info I've been able to find / research.

    Thanks for your work on this.

    BTW, I took some pretty huge flak and lost a $70K job this year (that could be a blog post to itself) over a stand I took on my blog pointing out the 'hoax' of the learning pyramid research to a renowned academic research group. There are LOTS of people who take the learning pyramid research at face value. All of us involved in education and sharing presentations for others should share this as an example of needed critical thinking / fact checking. This reminds me of the famed "tree octopus' website Doug Johnson put up years ago.

    I spent at least 6 hours completely re-writing this post back in April:

    That was deja vu from January, when another rep from the same research company / vendor cited "Sousa, How the Brain Works, 2005" to share the learning pyramid hoax research. I didn't and haven't received a formal copyright takedown request and legal threat from the overlord vendor in this case (and hopefully won't) so my photo of the slide in question is still on this original post:

    One of my lessons learned from this highly unpleasant vendor interaction was: Be very careful when you directly criticize vendors and vendor presentations. The costs can be high.

    That said, this IS excellent work and I applaud you for it. Keep it up, as Dean says, we need more posts/work like this. :-)

  8. I want to be just like you when I grow up, Darren. You're truly awesome at stick-to-it-ness.

  9. Yep--it's a myth just like the learning pyramid and the promise of NCLB. Great work digging this far, Darren. Now I really, really have to know if Alan hears anything from the supposed source. I will lose sleep over this.

  10. Darren,
    I'm doing a media literacy workshop for teachers for Virginia's DOE on July 18 and love the timeliness of this! What a great example of critical thinking- and global collaboration/helpfulness. You are awesome, my man, but then you already knew I think you're brilliant! Thanks for always sharing your work and thinking!


  11. Darren,
    Thanks so much for the post! I learned so much more than the stat is false . . . Persistence is a wonderful trait and I will pass this post on to students as an example of the sometimes dogged and inventive efforts needed to track down the truth and how again, you cannot believe everything you read--no matter how many times a "fact" is cited.

  12. I am still no closer to an answer. A few neuroscientists who replied with research that suggested visual and textual response rates where more in the same order of magnitude, maybe a 2s difference- but it also gets sticky as to say are we comparing recognition of a single word vs image, or about the amount of information the media can send (This is from an email Lynn Burmark sent me).

    The other interesting thing is when people send me the link to the 3M brochure as the answer- yes its a citation where the claim is made but it is not cited to anything else, just asserted.

    I'll check with Bernie Dodge, I am not surprised he spotted it early. Thanks to Wesley for your tale and insight.

    Diggiing is so fun.

  13. I have a couple of takeaways from this incident. First, with the increase use of the world wide web over these past 20+ years, more and more individuals have access to the internet and resultantly can publish virtually anything that she/he wants whether or not the information is true. While this provides another means of communicating and exercising freedom of speech, it also results in the promotion of false information. And for some odd reason, there is a portion of the population that assumes that whatever is posted to the internet is true, and that is not always the case! That is why teachers, initially (back in the day when I was growing up) did not allow us to cite references from the internet. Now, using references from the internet is more widely accepted with the understanding that careful consideration has been taken by the student to ensure the validity of the information source. Which leads me to my next takeaway. Teachers who utilize methods of inquiry to promote the development of critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills in their students, are helping to equip students with the skills necessary to be able to make such determinations because they will challenge what they read.

  14. I believe that many people are more Visual than Auditory, this article indeed showed how fast we process things. Possible or impossible it may seem, as of this moment, I am amenable on this work of Alan. Thanks to you Sir!

  15. Interesting. I wonder how they come up with these statistics.

  16. So, not exactly what we are talking about here... but there is this from David McCandless -

    I feel that everyday, all of us now are being blasted by information design. It's being poured into our eyes through the Web, and we're all visualizers now; we're all demanding a visual aspect to our information. There's something almost quite magical about visual information. It's effortless, it literally pours in. And if you're navigating a dense information jungle, coming across a beautiful graphic or a lovely data visualization, it's a relief, it's like coming across a clearing in the jungle. I was curious about this, so it led me to the work of a Danish physicist called Tor Norretranders, and he converted the bandwidth of the senses into computer terms.

    So here we go. This is your senses, pouring into your senses every second. Your sense of sight is the fastest. It has the same bandwidth as a computer network. Then you have touch, which is about the speed of a USB key. And then you have hearing and smell, which has the throughput of a hard disk. And then you have poor old taste, which is like barely the throughput of a pocket calculator. And that little square in the corner, a naught .7 percent, that's the amount we're actually aware of. So a lot of your vision -- the bulk of it is visual, and it's pouring in. It's unconscious. The eye is exquisitely sensitive to patterns in variations in color, shape and pattern. It loves them, and it calls them beautiful. - http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization.html

    He cites Tor Nørretranders - am currently skimming his blog to see if I can find the origin... I could also email David if anyone if interested in the sourcing, we've swapped email before... maybe he'll respond.

  17. @Diana I love that clip from David's TED Talk. If you can get the source that might help some. I'm fairly convinced the "60 000 times faster than text" bit is not likely to be supported. Lately I've been talking more about the Pictorial Superiority Effect. John Medina mentions this too in Brain Rules.

  18. @Darren I guess I was suggesting if the 60,000 times faster is dead... this could be an effective piece to replacement statement or concept.

  19. thank you. you turned me on to millionshort and stopped me from proliferating this misconception in my own book.

  20. @Gene That's great news, on both counts!

    Anything we can do to clear the air around this myth is a step in the right direction. ;-)

  21. I would like to know more about the statistics on this one but great stuff.

  22. Anonymous4/11/13 15:51


    I also found another citation to the quote here:

    cites Kranzler (1999) 3M Corporation.

    Hope this helps!
    Will check back to see how it unfolds :)

  23. I wish I could help this work along but I just wanted to say that your research process is impressive and inspirational -- it has really motivated me to "step up" my skills in this area. Thanks so much for sharing!

  24. The $60 prize remains unclaimed.

    @roomofonezone- That 1986 UM study is close but a false positive. I came across that one, and was able to contact the author, Doug Vogel. He said his research had nothing to do with the processing speed claim, and was unaware of other related research at UM (a quote from him is in the original post http://cogdogblog.com/2012/07/06/60000-times-question/)

  25. You are an investigative genius. I am very impressed. Can't wait to see what turns up because I have also seen this quoted as fact.

    Good luck!

  26. Here is a PDF to a 3M presentation piece that references the stat....I think? Please check this out folks and see if it looks legit....


  27. @Matthew The PDF you linked to makes the "60 000x" claim but cites no source. Looks like Alan gets to hang on to his $60.

  28. Thank you for this research. I recently heard this "fact" quoted - poorly - at a social media conference and wanted to go running to Snopes to dispute it. No doubt we process visual information and text differently. But this sounds like a very sloppy interpretation of what actually occurs.

  29. I am doing a webinar in a couple of weeks on the topic of "Visual Narratives." I am beginning my presentation with some statistics about visual learning and have come across the 60,000x faster "FACT" a lot. Curiosity got the best of me and I did a number of searches to find the source and after about 30min came up on your blog post. THANK YOU. It's precisely what I thought... 50% of all statistics are made up ;)

  30. Anonymous31/3/15 06:20

    Thank you so much for this. I did plan to quote this line in my book and couldn't find the evidence. Now taking it out. But - I might just do a case study about it... well done!

  31. I've got a sighting of the statement (again with no link or citation for research) back to a 1982 Business Week as insert. It was stated by a computer company CEO named Philip Cooper, currently a lecturer at MIT Sloan School. I've emailed twice; his phone dead ended in a full voicemail box. Darren I might just pay you the $60 if next time you are in Boston you will knock on his door.

    I no longer believe there will be a smoking gun, just continued fakes.


  32. Anonymous6/6/15 08:47

    I notice that many people in these comments are using the word "text." Strictly speaking, "text" is visual information, and would be subject to the (obviously false) claim of '60,000x faster.' The best way to state this claim would be along the lines of "we process visual information X times faster than auditory information."

    I spent some time researching this based on the difference in the speed of sound (speech) and the speed of light (visual info or "thought" moving at the speed of electricity). While the absolute speeds are quite different (hundreds of thousands times faster for light), the net effect on thought (processing) is expressed in nanoseconds or milliseconds. We process spoken language just about as fast as it is spoken, and I daresay that the difference in a classroom is negligible when a teacher has to speak to a group of children with a range of attention spans.

    Another problem with the supposed superiority of the "visual" lies in the "picture is worth 1000 words" idea— people do not all process visual information the same, so it needs to be explained, contextualized and dwelt upon, just like spoken words do.

  33. Nicely investigated!

    The counter-evidence comes from Cognitive Load theory. Giving people more things to process can interfere with learning under time constraints. For example, this work found that a visual-on,y approach was worse than a textual one for novices, but better for experts.

    Depending on how we interpret 'process visuals' the advantage in most cases seems marginal rather than 60,000. For example, if 'process' in any way means 'understand'.

  34. @Sam Thanks for this contribution to the search! The paper (11 pgs) you mention is here. As you said, it suggests a much more nuanced approach to the ways in which multimedia can support learning & instruction. The final paragraph from the paper summarizes the takeaways from the study:

    "In conclusion, multimedia, dual-modality instructions are beneficial only under some, well-defined, circumstances and have negative consequences under other circumstances. Differing levels of learner experience should be taken into account when selecting a proper user-adapted instructional design. When dealing with split-source diagrams and text,

    (a) textual materials should be presented in auditory rather than written form;
    (b) the same textual materials should not be presented in both auditory and written form; and
    (c) when presented in auditory form, textual materials should be able to be easily turned off or otherwise ignored.

    These principles, based on cognitive load theory, can provide some guidance in the design of multimedia instruction."

    The effectiveness of multimedia depends on the media being combined (or not), and the experiecens of the learners. This is a rich field of study. This particular study used "inexperienced trade appretices" as the subjects. I wonder what the results might be for different populations of learners?

    It's worth reading Multimedia Learning by Richard Mayer. Also, this study on the "EFFECT OF MULTIMEDIA INSTRUCTION ON SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS’ ACHIEVEMENT IN PHYSICS" from the European Journal of Educational Studies suggests that the use of text+narration+animation improved how high school students learn physics.