Serial attention models of eye-movement control during reading were evaluated in an eye-tracking experiment that examined how lexical activation combines with visual information in the parafovea to affect word skipping (where a word is not fixated during first-pass reading). Lexical activation was manipulated by repetition priming created through prime-target pairs embedded within a sentence. The boundary technique (Rayner, 1975) was used to determine whether the target word was fully available during parafoveal preview or whether it was available with transposed letters (e.g., Herman changed to Hreman). With full parafoveal preview, the target word was skipped more frequently when it matched the earlier prime word (i.e., was repeated) than when it did not match the earlier prime word (i.e., was new). With transposed-letter (TL) preview, repetition had no effect on skipping rates despite the great similarity of the TL preview string to the target word and substantial evidence that TL strings activate the words from which they are derived (Perea & Lupker, 2003). These results show that lexically-based skipping is based on full recognition of the letter string in parafoveal preview and does not involve using the contextual constraint to compensate for the reduced information available from the parafovea. These results are consistent with models of eye-movement control during reading in which successive words in a text are processed one at a time (serially) and in which word recognition strongly influences eye movements.
Previous studies have shown that a plausible preview word can facilitate the processing of a target word as compared to an implausible preview word (a plausibility preview benefit effect) when reading Chinese (Yang, Wang, Tong, & Rayner, 2012; Yang, 2013). Regarding the nature of this effect, it is possible that readers processed the meaning of the plausible preview word and did not actually encode the target word (given that the parafoveal preview word lies close to the fovea). The current experiment examined this possibility with three conditions wherein readers received a preview of a target word that was either (1) identical to the target word (identical preview), (2) a plausible continuation of the pre-target text, but the post-target text in the sentence was incompatible with it (initially plausible preview), or (3) not a plausible continuation of the pre-target text, nor compatible with the post-target text (implausible preview). Gaze durations on target words were longer in the initially plausible condition than the identical condition. Overall, the results showed a typical preview benefit, but also implied that readers did not encode the initially plausible preview. Also, a plausibility preview benefit was replicated: gaze durations were longer with implausible previews than the initially plausible ones. Furthermore, late eye movement measures did not reveal differences between the initially plausible and the implausible preview conditions, which argues against the possibility of misreading the plausible preview word as the target word. In sum, these results suggest that a plausible preview word provides benefit in processing the target word as compared to an implausible preview word, and this benefit is only present in early but not late eye movement measures.
plausibility preview benefit; eye movements; Chinese
The coordination of word-recognition and oculomotor processes during reading was evaluated in two eye-tracking experiments that examined how word skipping, where a word is not fixated during first-pass reading, is affected by the lexical status of a letter string in the parafovea and ease of recognizing that string. Ease of lexical recognition was manipulated through target-word frequency (Experiment 1) and through repetition priming between prime-target pairs embedded in a sentence (Experiment 2). Using the gaze-contingent boundary technique the target word appeared in the parafovea either with full preview or with transposed-letter (TL) preview. The TL preview strings were nonwords in Experiment 1 (e.g., bilnk created from the target blink), but were words in Experiment 2 (e.g., sacred created from the target scared). Experiment 1 showed greater skipping for high-frequency than low-frequency target words in the full preview condition but not in the TL preview (nonword) condition. Experiment 2 showed greater skipping for target words that repeated an earlier prime word than for those that did not, with this repetition priming occurring both with preview of the full target and with preview of the target’s TL neighbor word. However, time to progress from the word after the target was greater following skips of the TL preview word, whose meaning was anomalous in the sentence context, than following skips of the full preview word whose meaning fit sensibly into the sentence context. Together, the results support the idea that coordination between word-recognition and oculomotor processes occurs at the level of implicit lexical decisions.
Two experiments examined parafoveal preview for words located in the middle of sentences and at sentence boundaries. Parafoveal processing was shown to occur for words at sentence-initial, mid-sentence, and sentence-final positions. Both Experiments 1 and 2 showed reduced effects of preview on regressions out for sentence-initial words. In addition, Experiment 2 showed reduced preview effects on first-pass reading times for sentence-initial words. These effects of sentence position on preview could result from reduced parafoveal processing for sentence-initial words, or other processes specific to word reading at sentence boundaries. In addition to the effects of preview, the experiments also demonstrate variability in the effects of sentence wrap-up on different reading measures, indicating that the presence and time course of wrap-up effects may be modulated by text-specific factors. We also report simulations of Experiment 2 using version 10 of E-Z Reader (Reichle, Warren, & McConnell, 2009), designed to explore the possible mechanisms underlying parafoveal preview at sentence boundaries.
reading; eye movements; E-Z Reader; parafoveal preview; wrap-up effects
Eye movements were monitored in 4 experiments that explored the role of parafoveal word length in reading. The experiments employed a type of compound word where the deletion of a letter results in 2 short words (e.g., backhand, back and). The boundary technique (K. Rayner, 1975) was employed to manipulate word length information in the parafovea. Accuracy of the parafoveal word length preview significantly affected landing positions and fixation durations. This disruption was larger for 2-word targets, but the results demonstrated that this interaction was not due to the morphological status of the target words. Manipulation of sentence context also demonstrated that parafoveal word length information can be used in combination with sentence context to narrow down lexical candidates. The 4 experiments converge in demonstrating that an important role of parafoveal word length information is to direct the eyes to the center of the parafoveal word.
eye movements; reading; parafoveal length information
Two experiments examined how lexical status affects the targeting of saccades during reading by using the boundary technique to vary independently the content of a letter string when seen in parafoveal preview and when directly fixated. Experiment 1 measured the skipping rate for a target word embedded in a sentence under three parafoveal preview conditions: full preview (e.g. brain-brain), pseudohomophone preview (e.g. brane-brain), and orthographic nonword control preview (e.g. brant-brain); in the first condition the preview string was always an English word while in the second and third conditions it was always a nonword. Experiment 2 investigated three conditions where the preview string was always a word: full preview (e.g. beach-beach), homophone preview (e.g. beech-beach), and orthographic control preview (e.g. bench-beach). None of the letter string manipulations used to create the preview conditions in the experiments disrupted sub-lexical orthographic or phonological patterns. In Experiment 1 higher skipping rates were observed for the full (lexical) preview condition, which consisted of a word, compared to the nonword preview conditions (pseudohomophone and orthographic-control). In contrast Experiment 2 showed no difference in skipping rates across the three types of lexical preview conditions (full, homophone and orthographic control), though preview type did influence reading times. This pattern indicates that skipping depends not only on the presence of disrupted sub-lexical patterns of orthography or phonology but is also critically dependent on processes that are sensitive to the lexical status of letter strings in the parafovea.
A crucial issue in word encoding is whether morphemes are involved in early stages. One paradigm that tests for this employs the transposed letter (TL) effect – the difference in the times to process a word (misfile) when it is preceded by a TL prime (mifsile) and when it is preceded by a substitute letter (SL) prime (mintile) – and examines whether the TL effect is smaller when the two adjacent letters cross a morpheme boundary. The evidence from prior studies is not consistent. Experiments 1 and 2 employed a parafoveal preview paradigm in which the transposed letters either crossed the prefix-stem boundary or did not, and found a clear TL effect regardless of whether the two letters crossed the morpheme boundary. Experiment 3 replicated this finding employing a masked priming lexical-decision paradigm. It thus appears that morphemes are not involved in early processes in English that are sensitive to letter order. There is some evidence for morphemic modulation of the TL effect in other languages; thus, the properties of the language may modulate when morphemes influence early letter position encoding.
Participants’ eye movements were monitored in an experiment that manipulated the frequency of target words (high vs. low) as well as their availability for parafoveal processing during fixations on the pre-target word (valid vs. invalid preview). The influence of the word-frequency by preview validity manipulation on the distributions of first fixation duration was examined by using ex-Gaussian fitting as well as a novel survival analysis technique which provided precise estimates of the timing of the first discernible influence of word frequency on first fixation duration. Using this technique, we found a significant influence of word frequency on fixation duration in normal reading (valid preview) as early as 145 ms from the start of fixation. We also demonstrated an equally rapid non-lexical influence on first fixation duration as a function of initial landing position (location) on target words. The time-course of frequency effects, but not location effects was strongly influenced by preview validity, demonstrating the crucial role of parafoveal processing in enabling direct lexical control of reading fixation times. Implications for models of eye-movement control are discussed.
Eye movements; Reading; Lexical processing; Word frequency; Parafoveal preview; Direct control; Initial landing position; Fixation location; Fixation duration
The ability to identify letters and encode their position is a crucial step of the word recognition process. However and despite their word identification problem, the ability of dyslexic children to encode letter identity and letter-position within strings was not systematically investigated. This study aimed at filling this gap and further explored how letter identity and letter-position encoding is modulated by letter context in developmental dyslexia. For this purpose, a letter-string comparison task was administered to French dyslexic children and two chronological age (CA) and reading age (RA)-matched control groups. Children had to judge whether two successively and briefly presented four-letter strings were identical or different. Letter-position and letter identity were manipulated through the transposition (e.g., RTGM vs. RMGT) or substitution of two letters (e.g., TSHF vs. TGHD). Non-words, pseudo-words, and words were used as stimuli to investigate sub-lexical and lexical effects on letter encoding. Dyslexic children showed both substitution and transposition detection problems relative to CA-controls. A substitution advantage over transpositions was only found for words in dyslexic children whereas it extended to pseudo-words in RA-controls and to all type of items in CA-controls. Letters were better identified in the dyslexic group when belonging to orthographically familiar strings. Letter-position encoding was very impaired in dyslexic children who did not show any word context effect in contrast to CA-controls. Overall, the current findings point to a strong letter identity and letter-position encoding disorder in developmental dyslexia.
letter-string processing; letter-position encoding; letter-identity encoding; letter transposition; letter substitution; reading acquisition; dyslexic children
The encoding of letter position is a key aspect in all recently proposed models of visual-word recognition. We analyzed the impact of lexical frequency on letter position assignment by examining the temporal dynamics of lexical activation induced by pseudowords extracted from words of different frequencies. For each word (e.g., BRIDGE), we created two pseudowords: A transposed-letter (TL: BRIGDE) and a replaced-letter pseudoword (RL: BRITGE). ERPs were recorded while participants read words and pseudowords in two tasks: Semantic categorization (Experiment 1) and lexical decision (Experiment 2). For high-frequency stimuli, similar ERPs were obtained for words and TL-pseudowords, but the N400 component to words was reduced relative to RL-pseudowords, indicating less lexical/semantic activation. In contrast, TL- and RL-pseudowords created from low-frequency stimuli elicited similar ERPs. Behavioral responses in the lexical decision task paralleled this asymmetry. The present findings impose constraints on computational and neural models of visual-word recognition.
visual-word recognition; position coding; ERPs; word-frequency; transposed-letter effects
The present study examined how word-initial letters influence lexical access during reading. Eye movements were monitored as participants read sentences containing target words. Three factors were independently manipulated. First, target words had either high or low constraining word-initial letter sequences (e.g., dwarf or clown, respectively). Second, targets were either high or low in frequency of occurrence (e.g., train or stain, respectively). Third, targets were embedded in either biasing or neutral contexts (i.e., targets were high or low in their predictability). This 2 (constraint) × 2 (frequency) × 2 (context) design allowed us to examine the conditions under which a word’s initial letter sequence could facilitate processing. Analyses of fixation duration data revealed significant main effects of constraint, frequency, and context. Moreover, in measures taken to reflect “early” lexical processing (i.e., first and single fixation duration), there was a significant interaction between constraint and context. The overall pattern of findings suggests lexical access is facilitated by highly constraining word-initial letters. Results are discussed in comparison to recent studies of lexical features involved in word recognition during reading.
reading; eye movements; word-initial letter constraint; word frequency; contextual predictability
The question of how the brain encodes letter position in written words has
attracted increasing attention in recent years. A number of models have
recently been proposed to accommodate the fact that transposed-letter
stimuli like jugde or caniso
are perceptually very close to their base words.
Here we examined how letter position coding is attained in the tactile
modality via Braille reading. The idea is that Braille word recognition may
provide more serial processing than the visual modality, and this may
produce differences in the input coding schemes employed to encode letters
in written words. To that end, we conducted a lexical decision experiment
with adult Braille readers in which the pseudowords were created by
transposing/replacing two letters.
We found a word-frequency effect for words. In addition, unlike parallel
experiments in the visual modality, we failed to find any clear signs of
transposed-letter confusability effects. This dissociation highlights the
differences between modalities.
The present data argue against models of letter position coding that assume
that transposed-letter effects (in the visual modality) occur at a
relatively late, abstract locus.
The boundary paradigm (Rayner, 1975) with a novel preview manipulation was used to examine the extent of parafoveal processing of words to the right of fixation. Words n + 1 and n + 2 had either correct or incorrect previews prior to fixation (prior to crossing the boundary location). In addition, the manipulation utilized either a high or low frequency word in word n + 1 location on the assumption that it would be more likely that n + 2 preview effects could be obtained when word n + 1 was high frequency. The primary findings were that there was no evidence for a preview benefit for word n + 2 and no evidence for parafoveal-on-foveal effects when word n + 1 is at least four letters long. We discuss implications for models of eye-movement control in reading.
Breen and Clifton (2011) argued that readers’ eye movements during silent reading are influenced by the stress patterns of words. This claim was supported by the observation that syntactic reanalysis that required concurrent metrical reanalysis (e.g., a change from the noun form of abstract to the verb form) resulted in longer reading times than syntactic reanalysis that did not require metrical reanalysis (e.g., a change from the noun form of report to the verb form). However, the data contained a puzzle: the disruption appeared on the critical word (abstract, report) itself, although the material that forced the part of speech change did not appear until the next region. Breen and Clifton argued that parafoveal preview of the disambiguating material triggered the revision, and that the eyes did not move on until a fully-specified lexical representation of the critical word was achieved. The present experiment used a boundary change paradigm (Rayner, 1975) in which parafoveal preview of the disambiguating region was prevented. Once again, an interaction was observed: syntactic reanalysis resulted in particularly long reading times when it also required metrical reanalysis. However, now the interaction did not appear on the critical word, but only following the disambiguating region. This pattern of results supports Breen and Clifton's claim that readers form an implicit metrical representation of text during silent reading.
Recent research has shown contextual diversity (i.e., the number of passages in which a given word appears) to be a reliable predictor of word processing difficulty. It has also been demonstrated that word-frequency has little or no effect on word recognition speed when accounting for contextual diversity in isolated word processing tasks. An eye-movement experiment was conducted wherein the effects of word-frequency and contextual diversity were directly contrasted in a normal sentence reading scenario. Subjects read sentences with embedded target words which varied in word frequency and contextual diversity. All first-pass and later reading times were significantly longer for words with lower contextual diversity compared to words with higher contextual diversity when controlling for word-frequency and other important lexical properties. Furthermore, there was no difference in reading times for higher frequency and lower frequency words when controlling for contextual diversity. The results confirm prior findings regarding contextual diversity and word-frequency effects and demonstrate that contextual diversity is a more accurate predictor of word processing speed than word-frequency within a normal reading task.
word-frequency; contextual diversity; eye movements; reading
We examined the effects of letter transposition in Hebrew in three masked-priming experiments. Hebrew, like English has an alphabetic orthography where sequential and contiguous letter strings represent phonemes. However, being a Semitic language it has a non-concatenated morphology that is based on root derivations. Experiment 1 showed that transposed-letter (TL) root primes inhibited responses to targets derived from the non-transposed root letters, and that this inhibition was unrelated to relative root frequency. Experiment 2 replicated this result and showed that if the transposed letters of the root created a nonsense-root that had no lexical representation, then no inhibition and no facilitation were obtained. Finally, Experiment 3 demonstrated that in contrast to English, French, or Spanish, TL nonword primes did not facilitate recognition of targets, and when the root letters embedded in them consisted of a legal root morpheme, they produced inhibition. These results suggest that lexical space in alphabetic orthographies may be structured very differently in different languages if their morphological structure diverges qualitatively. In Hebrew, lexical space is organized according to root families rather than simple orthographic structure, so that all words derived from the same root are interconnected or clustered together, independent of overall orthographic similarity.
Morphology; Letter Transposition; Hebrew; Masked-Priming
While orthographic and phonological preview benefits in reading are uncontroversial (see Schotter, Angele, & Rayner, 2012 for a review), researchers have debated the existence of semantic preview benefit with positive evidence in Chinese and German, but no support in English. Two experiments, using the gazecontingent boundary paradigm (Rayner, 1975), show that semantic preview benefit can be observed in English when the preview and target are synonyms (share the same or highly similar meaning, e.g., curlers-rollers). However, no semantic preview benefit was observed for semantic associates (e.g., curlers-styling). These different preview conditions represent different degrees to which the meaning of the sentence changes when the preview is replaced by the target. When this continuous variable (determined by a norming procedure) was used as the predictor in the analyses, there was a significant relationship between it and all reading time measures, suggesting that similarity in meaning between what is accessed parafoveally and what is processed foveally may be an important influence on the presence of semantic preview benefit. Why synonyms provide semantic preview benefit in reading English is discussed in relation to (1) previous failures to find semantic preview benefit in English and (2) the fact that semantic preview benefit is observed in other languages even for non-synonymous words. Semantic preview benefit is argued to depend on several factors—attentional resources, depth of orthography, and degree of similarity between preview and target.
Eye-movement experiments suggest that the perceptual span during reading is larger than the fixated word, asymmetric around the fixation position, and shrinks in size contingent on the foveal processing load. We used the SWIFT model of eye-movement control during reading to test these hypotheses and their implications under the assumption of graded parallel processing of all words inside the perceptual span. Specifically, we simulated reading in the boundary paradigm and analysed the effects of denying the model to have valid preview of a parafoveal word n + 2 two words to the right of fixation. Optimizing the model parameters for the valid preview condition only, we obtained span parameters with remarkably realistic estimates conforming to the empirical findings on the size of the perceptual span. More importantly, the SWIFT model generated parafoveal processing up to word n + 2 without fitting the model to such preview effects. Our results suggest that asymmetry and dynamic modulation are plausible properties of the perceptual span in a parallel word-processing model such as SWIFT. Moreover, they seem to guide the flexible distribution of processing resources during reading between foveal and parafoveal words.
Eye movements; Reading; Computational modelling; Perceptual span; Preview
Hebrew provides an intriguing contrast to European languages. On the one hand, like any European language, it has an alphabetic script. On the other hand, being a Semitic language, it differs in the structure of base words. By monitoring eye movements, we examined the time-course of processing letter transpositions in Hebrew, and assessed their impact on reading different types of Hebrew words that differ in their internal structure. We found that letter transposition resulted in dramatic reading costs for words with Semitic word structure, and much smaller costs for non-Semitic words. Moreover, the strongest impact of transposition occurred where root-letter transposition resulted in a pseudo-root, where significant interference emerged already in first fixation duration. Our findings thus suggest that Hebrew readers differentiate between Semitic and non-Semitic forms already at first fixation, at the early phase of word recognition. Moreover, letters are differentially processed across the visual array, given their morphological structure and their contribution to recovering semantic meaning. We conclude that flexibility or rigidity in encoding letter position is determined by cues regarding the internal structure of printed words.
TL; letter position coding; word-recognition; Hebrew; Morphology
The current study investigated the degree to which semantic integration processes (“wrap-up”) during sentence understanding demand attentional resources by examining the effects of clause and sentence wrap-up on the parafoveal preview benefit in younger and older adults. The parafoveal preview benefit (PPB) is defined as facilitation in processing word N+1 based on information extracted while the eyes are fixated on word N, and is known to be reduced by processing difficulty at word N. Participants read passages in which word N occurred in a sentence-internal, clause-final, or sentence-final position and a gaze-contingent boundary change paradigm was used to manipulate the information available in parafoveal vision for word N+1. Wrap-up effects were found on word N for both younger and older adults. Early pass measures (first fixation duration and single fixation duration) of the PPB on Word N+1 were reduced by clause wrap-up and sentence wrap-up on word N, with similar effects for younger and older adults. However, for intermediate (gaze duration) and later pass measures (regression path duration, and selective regression path duration), sentence wrap-up (but not clause wrap-up) on word N differentially reduced the PPB of word N+1 for older adults. These findings suggest that wrap-up is demanding and may be less efficient with advancing age, resulting in a greater cognitive processing load for older readers.
reading; sentence processing; parafoveal preview; eye-tracking
Effects reflecting serial within-word processing are frequently found in pseudo- and non-word recognition tasks not only among fluent, but especially among dyslexic readers. However, the time course and locus of these serial within-word processing effects in the cognitive hierarchy (i.e., orthographic, phonological, lexical) have remained elusive. We studied whether a subject's eye movements during a lexical decision task would provide information about the temporal dynamics of serial within-word processing. We assumed that if there is serial within-word processing proceeding from left to right, items with informative beginnings would attract the gaze position and (micro-)saccadic eye movements earlier in time relative to those with informative endings. In addition, we compared responses to word, non-word, and pseudo-word items to study whether serial within-word processing stems mainly from a lexical, orthographic, or phonological processing level, respectively. Gaze positions showed earlier responses to anomalies located at pseudo- and non-word beginnings rather than endings, whereas informative word beginnings or endings did not affect gaze positions. The overall pattern of results suggests parallel letter processing of real words and rapid serial within-word processing when reading novel words. Dysfluent readers' gaze position responses toward anomalies located at pseudo- and non-word endings were delayed substantially, suggesting impairment in serial processing at an orthographic processing level.
Readers continuously receive parafoveal information about the upcoming word in addition to the foveal information about the currently fixated word. Previous research (Inhoff, Radach, Starr, & Greenberg, 2000) showed that the presence of a parafoveal word which was similar to the foveal word facilitated processing of the foveal word. In three experiments, we used the gaze-contingent boundary paradigm (Rayner, 1975) to manipulate the parafoveal information that subjects received before or while fixating a target word (e.g. news) within a sentence. Specifically a reader’s parafovea could contain a repetition of the target (news), a correct preview of the post-target word (once), an unrelated word (warm), random letters (cxmr), a nonword neighbor of the target (niws), a semantically related word (tale), or a nonword neighbor of that word (tule). Target fixation times were significantly lower in the parafoveal repetition condition than in all other conditions, suggesting that foveal processing can be facilitated by parafoveal repetition. We present a simple model framework that can account for these effects.
Letter-by-letter readers identify each letter of the word they are reading serially in left to right order before recognizing the word. When their letter naming is also impaired, letter-by-letter reading is inaccurate and can render even single word reading very poor. Tactile and/or kinesthetic strategies have been reported to improve reading in these patients, but only under certain conditions or for a limited set of stimuli.
The primary aim of the current study was to determine whether a tactile/kinesthetic treatment could significantly improve reading specifically under normal reading conditions, i.e. reading untrained words presented in free vision and read without overt use of the strategy.
Methods & Procedures
Three chronic letter-by-letter readers participated in a tactile/kinesthetic treatment aimed at first improving letter naming accuracy (phase 1) and then letter-by-letter reading speed (phase 2). In a multiple case series design, accuracy and speed of reading untrained words without overt use of the trained tactile/kinesthetic strategy was assessed before phase 1, after phase 1 and again after phase 2.
Outcomes & Results
All three patients significantly improved both their speed and accuracy reading untrained words without overt use of the trained tactile/kinesthetic strategy. All three patients required the additional practice in phase 2 to achieve significant improvement. Treatment did not target sentence level reading, yet two of the three patients became so adept that they could read entire sentences.
This study replicates previous findings on the efficacy of tactile/kinesthetic treatment for letter-by-letter readers with poor letter naming. It further demonstrates that this treatment can alter cognitive processing such that words never specifically trained can be read in free vision without overtly using the trained strategy. The data suggest that an important element in achieving this level of generalization is continuing training beyond the point of initial mastery (i.e. accurate letter naming).
aphasia; cognitive rehabilitation; Speech-Language Pathology; pure alexia; letter-by-letter reading; generalization
The boundary paradigm, in combination with parafoveal masks, is the main technique for studying parafoveal preprocessing during reading. The rationale is that the masks (e.g., strings of X's) prevent parafoveal preprocessing, but do not interfere with foveal processing. A recent study, however, raised doubts about the neutrality of parafoveal masks. In the present study, we explored this issue by means of fixation-related brain potentials (FRPs). Two FRP conditions presented rows of five words. The task of the participant was to judge whether the final word of a list was a “new” word, or whether it was a repeated (i.e., “old”) word. The critical manipulation was that the final word was X-masked during parafoveal preview in one condition, whereas another condition presented a valid preview of the word. In two additional event-related brain potential (ERP) conditions, the words were presented serially with no parafoveal preview available; in one of the conditions with a fixed timing, in the other word presentation was self-paced by the participants. Expectedly, the valid-preview FRP condition elicited the shortest processing times. Processing times did not differ between the two ERP conditions indicating that “cognitive readiness” during self-paced processing can be ruled out as an alternative explanation for differences in processing times between the ERP and the FRP conditions. The longest processing times were found in the X-mask FRP condition indicating that parafoveal X-masks interfere with foveal word recognition.
visual word recognition; preview benefit; invisible boundary technique; parafoveal masks; eye movements; EEG
The visual word recognition system recruits neuronal systems originally developed for object perception which are characterized by orientation insensitivity to mirror reversals. It has been proposed that during reading acquisition beginning readers have to “unlearn” this natural tolerance to mirror reversals in order to efficiently discriminate letters and words. Therefore, it is supposed that this unlearning process takes place in a gradual way and that reading expertise modulates mirror-letter discrimination. However, to date no supporting evidence for this has been obtained. We present data from an eye-movement study that investigated the degree of sensitivity to mirror-letters in a group of beginning readers and a group of expert readers. Participants had to decide which of the two strings presented on a screen corresponded to an auditorily presented word. Visual displays always included the correct target word and one distractor word. Results showed that those distractors that were the same as the target word except for the mirror lateralization of two internal letters attracted participants’ attention more than distractors created by replacement of two internal letters. Interestingly, the time course of the effects was found to be different for the two groups, with beginning readers showing a greater tolerance (decreased sensitivity) to mirror-letters than expert readers. Implications of these findings are discussed within the framework of preceding evidence showing how reading expertise modulates letter identification.