Characterizing the Processing Units of Reading: Effects of Intra- and Interword Spaces in a Letter Detection Task
In their chapter, Alice Healy, Gary Conboy, and Adam Drewnowski describe a letter detection experiment in which asterisks or blank spaces were inserted between characters in continuous text; participants made significantly fewer errors when the test word subtended a larger visual angle. In a second experiment, the interword space before the test word the was found to be more critical for unit formation than the space after the.
According to Healy and her colleagues, these results suggest that the size of the processing units used by readers depends on visual angle, and that the reading units for frequent function words such as the extend beyond the word itself, include the interword space, and are influenced more by familiarity than by linguistic function. They discuss these results in terms of the notions of the cognitive module and input system proposed by Fodor ( 1983).
This book was conceived when we were developing our own executive control model of reading (see Britton, Glynn, & Smith's chapter on the cognitive workbench model in Understanding Expository Text, edited by Britton & Black, 1985). The model is based on the notion that the reading task is made up of a large number of subprocesses, which obviously cannot operate optimally in a state of anarchy; they need some executive control. Around the same time, we heard Robert Sternberg and Richard Wagner deliver an early version of the paper that appears as a chapter here, from which we derived the title of the volume.
Those most influential in shaping Britton's early research in reading were Thomas Andre, Ellen Gagné, and Ernst Rothkopf, and his debt to them is acknowledged here.
Britton B. K., Glynn S. M., & Smith J. ( 1985). "Cognitive demands of processing expository text: A cognitive workbench model". In B. Britton and J. Black (Eds.), Understanding expository text (pp. 227-248). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.