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The Importance of Processing Speed: How Slow Processing Speed Affects Learning

The Importance of Processing Speed: How Slow Processing Speed Affects Learning

Learn about the importance of processing speed in learning, academic and work performance, intellectual development, and reasoning, and how it can be improved.

Our cognitive skills — including attention, memory, logic, reasoning, and auditory and visual processing — play an integral role in our ability to learn, read, memorize, and perform. These skills work together to move the information our brain receives into a bank of knowledge that we use throughout our everyday lives.

Processing speed is one of these cognitive skills, and slow processing speed can affect how we learn, work, and interact with others. Read on to learn more about the importance of processing speed.

What Is Processing Speed?

One of the main elements of the cognitive process, processing speed is an important skill in learning, academic and work performance, intellectual development, and reasoning.

Your processing speed determines the speed in which you can understand and react to the information your brain receives. Processing speed enables you to perform tasks quickly and accurately without doing so consciously. The higher your processing speed, the more efficiently you are able to think and learn. When someone has slow processing speed, it takes their brain longer to take in, process, and respond to information.

Processing speed is not related to intelligence. When someone has slow processing speed, it doesn’t mean they are lazy or unintelligent. It simply means that some tasks will be more difficult than others, such as reading, doing math, listening and taking notes, or holding conversations.

There are three main components to processing speed:

  • Visual processing: how quickly your eyes perceive information and relay it to your brain (such as when reading directions or working with letters and numbers).
  • Auditory processing: how quickly you hear a stimulus and react to it (following verbal instructions, engaging in conversation, etc.).
  • Motor speed: how strong your fine-motor agility is, leading to academic fluency (filling out timed math worksheets, for instance).

Struggles with processing speed are thought to be related to differences in the brain, but scientists are still learning how they are connected.

Signs of Slow Processing Speed

Slow processing speed is a lifelong challenge, and it can affect every area of life.

It can look different for different people and can change with age, but in general, when someone has slow processing speed, most tasks are more difficult. For instance, it may take them a long time to complete tasks for work or school, and they may find they are often the last one in the group to finish something.

Slow processing speed can create challenges at school, as children struggle to learn the basics of reading, writing, and counting.

Adults may have trouble accomplishing work tasks quickly and accurately and may find it difficult to remember new information.

In social situations, someone with slow processing speed may have trouble interacting with others because it takes them longer to process what another person is saying, gather words for a response, or explain something.

Some common struggles for people with slow processing speed are:

  • Becoming easily overwhelmed by too much information
  • Struggling to keep information in mind long enough to use it
  • Taking longer to make decisions or answer questions
  • Needing to read information multiple times to understand it
  • Difficulty finishing tasks, tests, or assignments on time
  • Missing social cues and nuances in conversation
  • Trouble following directions and keeping to routines, especially when multiple steps are involved

In addition, processing speed may affect executive functions. Someone with slow processing speed may have a harder time planning, setting goals, making decisions, starting tasks, and paying attention.

Learning Disabilities Related to Slow Processing Speed

Slow processing speed is not, in itself, considered a formal learning or attention disorder, but it can play a part in learning disorders like ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or auditory processing disorder. In fact, difficulties with processing speed are likely a major underlying factor in reading disabilities and ADHD. Processing speed is also thought to be related to Autism spectrum disorders.

Mental Health and Slow Processing Speed

The struggles people with slow processing speed have can take a toll on their self-esteem, and they may be at increased risk of anxiety and depression.

A study done by Edinburgh University showed that teens with lower cognitive processing speed were more likely to experience depression and anxiety symptoms in adulthood. The theory is that slower processing speed may lead to “increased stress and difficulties responding to adversity earlier in life.”

Ways To Improve Processing Speed

By now you can see the importance of processing speed in our everyday lives and how slow processing speed can be detrimental. The good news is, as with other cognitive abilities, processing speed can be improved with practice and training.

In general, the more automatic a task is, the easier it is to process quickly, so practicing a specific skill as much as possible can make it less burdensome to someone with slow processing speed. In addition, starting routines early to avoid rushing can help reduce their feelings of anxiety.

Students with slow processing speed will benefit from having more time to finish assignments or tests. There are also a number of games, toys, and apps that can help improve processing speed in effective and fun ways.

These strategies and tools are all great ways to help a person with slow processing speed manage their day-to-day struggles and find some relief from their symptoms, but even greater improvement can be accomplished with brain training.

Brain training with LearningRx-Atlanta strengthens cognitive skills, including processing speed

Our clients work one-on-one with their own personal brain trainers who guide them through challenging, yet enjoyable, mental exercises that target their specific needs.

Curious if brain training is right for you?

Take our free brain skills assessment for insight into your cognitive abilities and the reasons behind some of your learning and performance struggles. Or, contact us to learn more about how brain training can help improve processing speed.