Reading and the psychology of motivation
Reading is a voluntary activity that people can start to do if they want to. They can also stop reading any time - even mid sentence. Although we tend to think of reading as somehow different from other forms of behaviour, many psychological concepts still apply. One of those is motivation and goal orientation.
Reading and motivation
People read in three ways:
Skimming over the surface.
Getting the gist of the meaning
Thinking about the content
Readers skim over the surface when they want to figure out if this content is relevant to them. If they decide it is and they need to act on the information they will put in the effort to understand the gist of it all the while thinking ahead, asking how can I use this? Sometimes, readers want to think about the information they have read. When that happens, reading sparks ideas in their minds. We might counter-argue, or smile as our own thoughts are confirmed, or we discover how one idea connects with another. Readers stop reading when the effort involved exceeds the reward, whether the reward is information or enjoyment. The 'effort' here is the subjective experience of ease with which people process information. It is called 'processing fluency'. It can be measured by how the reader feels.
This kind of cognitive activity is manifested as a certain behaviour that can be observed. That is why the second step in our user testing for written content involves observation.