Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Effects of Increased Letter Spacing on Word Identification and Eye Guidance during Reading

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Effects of Increased Letter Spacing on Word Identification and Eye Guidance during Reading

Article excerpt

The effect of increasing the space between the letters in words on eye movements during reading was investigated under various word-spacing conditions. Participants read sentences that included a high- or low-frequency target word, letters were displayed normally or with an additional space between adjacent letters, and one, two, or three spaces were present between each word. The spacing manipulations were found to modulate the effect of word frequency on the number and duration of fixations on target words, indicating, more specifically, that letter spacing affected actual word identification under various word-spacing conditions. In addition, whereas initial fixations landed at the preferred viewing position (i.e., to the left of a word's center) for sentences presented normally, landing positions were nearer the beginnings of words when letter spacing was increased, and even nearer the beginnings of words when word boundary information was lacking. Findings are discussed in terms of the influence of textual spacing on eye movement control.

Over recent years, there has been renewed interest in the influence of text spacing on eye movements during reading (see Rayner, 1998, 2009, for general reviews of this and other issues in eye movement research). Indeed, research on this topic has made a major contribution to understanding how the visual appearance of text influences reading behavior and has informed the development of models of eye movement control (e.g., Engbert, Nuthmann, Richter, & Kliegl, 2005; Reichle, Pollatsek, Fischer, & Rayner, 1998; Reichle, Rayner, & Pollatsek, 2003).

Much of this research has focused on the effects of manipulating spaces between words in text, and, although it has sometimes been claimed that interword spaces might not be particularly important for reading (Epelboim, Booth, Ashkenazy, Taleghani, & Steinman, 1997; Epelboim, Booth, & Steinman, 1994, 1996; but see Rayner, Fischer, & Pollatsek, 1998; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1996), research has consistently shown that removing spaces between words in English impairs reading performance (e.g., Fisher, 1976; Malt & Seamon, 1978; Morris, Rayner, & Pollatsek, 1990; Pollatsek & Rayner, 1982; Rayner et al., 1998; Spragins, Lefton, & Fisher, 1976). For example, Spragins et al. found that reading rates decreased by an average of 48% when interword spaces were removed, and similar decrements have been observed in research in which interword spaces have been replaced with letters, digits, or bloblike gratings (Morris et al., 1990; Pollatsek & Rayner, 1982). Such evidence led Rayner, Pollatsek, and their colleagues (Morris et al., 1990; Pollatsek & Rayner, 1982; Rayner et al., 1998) to propose that spaces between words in text are of considerable importance in the reading of English and that interword spaces may help readers by aiding processes involved in word identification and eye guidance. In particular, Rayner et al. (1998) argued that interword spaces aid word identification by visually demarcating word boundaries and that spaces between words to the right of a fixated word provide valuable information about word length and word boundaries that provides guidance as to where to fixate next and, so, aids the progress of the eyes through text.1

Particularly clear support for this account was provided by a study in which participants read spaced and unspaced texts in English that included one of a pair of target words that were matched for length but differed in frequency (Rayner et al., 1998). It is well established that the duration of readers' fixations on words is sensitive to word frequency, indicating lexical access for word identification, and that words that occur often in written language receive shorter fixations than do words that occur less frequently (e.g., Inhoff & Rayner, 1986; Juhasz, Liversedge, White, & Rayner, 2006; Juhasz & Rayner, 2003; Rayner & Duffy, 1986; Rayner, Sereno, & Rayney, 1996). …

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