Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Assessing the Influence of Letter Position in Reading Normal and Transposed Texts Using a Letter Detection Task

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Assessing the Influence of Letter Position in Reading Normal and Transposed Texts Using a Letter Detection Task

Article excerpt

During word recognition, some letters appear to play a more important role than others. Although some studies have suggested that the first and last letters of a word have a privileged status, there is no consensus with regards to the importance of the different letter positions when reading connected text. In the current experiments, we used a simple letter search task to examine the impact of letter position on word identification in connected text using a classic paper and pencil procedure (Experiment 1) and an eye movement monitoring procedure (Experiment 2). In Experiments 3 and 4, a condition with transposed letters was included. Our results show that the first letter of a word is detected more easily than the other letters, and transposing letters in a word revealed the importance of the final letter. It is concluded that both the initial and final letters play a special role in word identification during reading but that the underlying processes might differ.

Keywords: reading, missing-letter effect, letter position, eye movements

As the basic element of written words in alphabetic languages, the processing of letters has always had a special status in the study of word recognition. A number of studies have shown that the words exterior letters play an important role in word recognition (e.g., Humphreys, Evett, & Quilan, 1990; Jordan, Patching, & Milner, 2000; Mason, 1975; McCusker, Gough, & Bias, 1981; Stevens & Grainger, 2003). However, these studies used paradigms in which words are presented in isolation. As Jordan, Thomas, and Patching (2003) pointed out: "whereas evidence of a privileged status for exterior letter pairs in processing single (foveal) word displays is plentiful. . .this evidence has not been matched in studies in which words are presented in bodies of text" (p. 900). Although there is evidence that both the first and the last letters of the word play a more important role than interior letters when reading connected text (e.g., Jordan, Thomas, Patching, & Scott-Brown, 2003), other studies have shown that only the first letter is critical (e.g., Brühl & Inhoff, 1995). The objective of the present series is to examine the importance of the words' exterior letters during reading by using a letter detection task.

To investigate the contribution of individual letter positions in word processing during reading, Brühl and Inhoff (1995) used an eye contingent paradigm and manipulated the availability of letters in the target word when readers were fixating the previous word. They found a preview benefit - that is, fixation duration on the target word decreased - when the first letters of the target word were available in the parafovea compared with a condition where all letters were replaced by Xs. The availability of the two exterior letters of the word did not lead to a larger preview benefit than presenting only the first two letters, suggesting that the last letter does not enjoy a particular status when reading continuous text. Other eye contingent studies of connected text reading have also concluded that the peripheral availability of a word's first letters was more beneficial than the availability of ending letters - suggesting a more important role for initial letters (Inhoff, 1989; Rayner, McConkie, & Zola, 1980; Rayner, Well, Pollatsek, & Bertera, 1982).

In 2003, Jordan et al. measured eye movements while participants were reading continuous text. The critical manipulation was the degradation of a few letters in the text through digital filtering. The results indicated that degrading exterior letters (first and last) slowed reading speed more than degrading interior letters or degrading only the first two letters; hence, the findings suggest that a words' last letter may be more important than was suggested by Brühl and Inhoff (1995). The importance of the last letters of a word was also demonstrated in studies using the transposed letters paradigm (e. …

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