June 16, 2024


Sapiens Digital

Does skim-watching videos on 2X speed hurt or help your brain?

5 min read


As much as we might sometimes want to fast-forward life’s more boring moments, that technology currently only exists in the form of a surprisingly tragic Adam Sandler movie.

Not so with video.

Nowadays, the majority of video players — whether it’s YouTube, Netflix, or a random training video or lecture — come with the option to watch the action at different speeds, typically allowing anything from “normal” up to “2X” or beyond.

But how many people actually use this playback feature? And if they do, does it really benefit them? We spoke to a number of people who like to watch videos at 2X, as well as an academic who’s done research into the area, to find out.

55-year-old PR agency head Joel Jelen has been watching videos on 2X for about 15 years now — and one type of video in particular.

“I watch a lot of sports videos at two times speed,” Jelen told Mashable. “I started because I found that life is too short to watch the whole of a game of, for example, football.”

Jelen said he started doing it as a break from work, and got into the habit that way.

“I actually find it very relaxing and a really good switch off as I’m having to use my head so much in business. I can’t think of a negative I’ve ever experienced in watching football, rugby league, cricket, golf, athletics or basketball…my favourite sports to watch. I get to see all the highlights and action without spending hours and hours doing it!”

32-year-old video editor Riccardo Fusetti, meanwhile, has been watching a variety of sped-up content for the past two years as a means of saving time.

“I only watch videos that are ‘exposition heavy’ that are easy to follow and not very technical and where the visuals don’t matter,” he explained. “I also have to add that I rarely go to 2X, I most likely will go 1.5X.”

Fusetti felt some of the content he was watching and listening to was being delivered quite slowly, hence the decision to opt for a faster playback speed — although he did admit that it probably doesn’t help him absorb information.

26-year-old student and writer Zuva Seven told Mashable she watches YouTube videos, Netflix shows and lectures (where possible) on 1.5-2X speed, and has been doing so for around six months to a year.

“It was actually around the time I was pursuing my ADHD diagnosis,” Seven said. “Something went viral about how listening to things at that pace is beneficial for neurodivergent people and I haven’t looked back since!”

Seven explained that her executive dysfunction is bad when she’s bored, so speeding up the pace helps keep her interested.

“For recreation I’ve found it perfect for when I’m warning up at the gym,” she said. “Especially if I’m watching something while I run, I need the pace to match me. For entertainment it depends on my mood. I’ve found with Japanese TV shows I tend to up the speed due to their pacing being slower. I only do this when I’m bingeing shows (after a couple of episodes I need a change of pace).”


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She added that if she could play Netflix faster than 2X she would, and that if she’s high she needs to watch things at 2X speed “at least.”

“People call you weird online, but it’s what helps me keep on track with work and stay engaged,” Seven said. “It’s like having subtitles for TV shows (something I do too), it makes things better when I need it.”

Clearly, there are a lot of people out there that regularly consume content at faster speeds. But as Fusetti mentioned, does it ever affect the way we absorb information? Can we take in as much at double the speed as we can at the “normal” playback rate?

“I think people forget that other people’s brains work differently.”

Dillon H. Murphy, a doctoral student in cognitive psychology at the University of California, carried out research into this area for a 2021 paper, Learning in double time: The effect of lecture video speed on immediate and delayed comprehension, after observing that a number of his students watched lecture material this way. The study involved over 200 students watching the same law and history videos at different speeds, before taking comprehension tests in order to gauge how well they’d absorbed the information.

The result? Students watching at faster speeds, including those watching at 2X, performed just as well in the tests as those watching at normal speeds.

“I was surprised at how effective students are at learning at 2X and even 2.5X speed,” Murphy told Mashable. “Our results demonstrated that students are good learners and can remember information even in circumstances that conventional wisdom suggests should be bad for learning. Given students’ resiliency to faster playback speeds, I was encouraged that students could potentially use this strategy to enhance their comprehension.”

Not everybody absorbs information in the same way. What’s normal for one person might even be uncomfortable for somebody else.

For anyone who’s only used faster playback as a means of skipping forward in a video, the idea of watching something at 2X may seem strange. But as Seven emphasised to Mashable, not everybody absorbs information in the same way. What’s normal for one person might even be uncomfortable for somebody else.

“I think people forget that other people’s brains work differently,” she said. “What other people perceive as normal, is actually almost painfully slow for others. So it’s about getting a person to their normal. It’s only weird if you don’t see it that way.”


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